Parasite name has unusual family connection

Biologist Eric Leis names parasite after mentor

Parasite name has unusual family...

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) - Eric Leis is a fish biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Onalaska. About a year and a half ago, he made a big discovery by finding a new species of parasite on the Mississippi river.

While it can't be seen by the human eye, it's got quite a big story behind its name.
Leis admits that he wouldn't be where he is now without the help of his mentor and friend Becky Lasee.

"She didn't just take the time to show me, but she made sure I understood, and that was really important,” said Leis.

So when he discovered a new parasite a year and a half ago, he knew exactly what he was going to do.

"I knew when I first saw the parasite that I was going to name it after Becky, because it's the ultimate way of saying thank you,” said Leis.

That's when Henneguya Laseeae was born.

"It's an honor to have a parasite named after you! I know it sounds bad, but it is a very big honor,” said Lasee.

Leis had more testing done on the parasite from a friend at Mississippi State University.

"I called my friend Matt Griffin who went to UW-L, and he named a parasite after Becky's husband, Dan,” said Leis.

Dan Sutherland had been a professor at UW-L, and had influenced so many students that he already had a parasite named after him.

He passed away unexpectedly in 2006.

When Leis received the results of the testing, he realized that the parasite he named after Lasee was closely related to the parasite named after Sutherland.

"When I saw that they were related, I think I literally screamed kind of and laughing, because I just couldn't believe it,” said Leis.

"I didn't have words really. It was -- it gave me chills almost,” said Lasee. 

Even as a biologist, Lasee said it feels like something more.

"I felt like maybe it was a message from my husband just telling me, 'Hello,' or something, ‘How you doing?’ and me saying back, ‘I'm doing well.’"

But whatever it was,  it's a reminder that sometimes the biggest things come in the tiniest of discoveries.

"Sometimes real life is better than anything you could put into a book I think because it just worked out like that,” said Leis.

Leis actually discovered the parasite in the gills of catfish found on the Mississippi River.

The size of the parasite is roughly 60 micrometers.

Just to give you an idea, the period at the end of a sentence is about 200 micrometers.

Lasee said that while both she and her husband were scientists, they found great joy in influencing students throughout the years.

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