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17 October 2019 Detecting a Fungal Pathogen in its Natural Habitat: The Case of Valley Fever
Alex H. Valenzuela, Erica L. Mullins, Antje Lauer
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Valley fever, a disease caused by the soilborne fungal pathogen Coccidioides spp., is on the rise in the southwestern United States and is suspected of expanding its habitat in response to climate change. Many people residing in endemic areas are unaware of the risk of contracting coccidioidomycosis by inhaling fugitive dust that may contain dormant arthroconidia of this fungus. In an effort to teach students about the ongoing epidemic of valley fever and reduce incidence of the disease through education, we developed an inquiry-based, multi-focus laboratory exercise that (1) increases awareness of valley fever incidence, disease symptoms, and ongoing efforts of disease prevention; (2) teaches about the pathogen's ecology; and (3) familiarizes students with molecular techniques targeting pathogen identification. This laboratory exercise uses polymerase chain reaction to detect Coccidioides spp. in DNA extracts from soil samples collected by students across different soil environments. Additionally, this exercise will teach students how to use publicly available data to investigate disease incidence over time and characterize soils the pathogen may inhabit.

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Alex H. Valenzuela, Erica L. Mullins, and Antje Lauer "Detecting a Fungal Pathogen in its Natural Habitat: The Case of Valley Fever," The American Biology Teacher 81(7), 492-501, (17 October 2019).
Published: 17 October 2019

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diagnostic PCR
disease incidence
DNA extraction
fungal pathogen
Multi-focus exercise
polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
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