What They Learned: Julia Pascarella ’21

The biology major and environmental studies minor used her thesis to study the properties and behavior of Crithidia fasciculata with another Haverford alum.

Every day, scientists work to eradicate harmful diseases. For her thesis, Julia Pascarella was one of them, studying the transmission of Crithidia fasciculata, a relative of different zoonotic parasites. Her thesis, “Investigating the Role of cAMP Signaling, Electrostatic Interactions and FPRC Proteins in the Adhesion Mechanism of Crithidia fasciculata: A Step Towards Understanding and Eliminating the Transmission of Trypanosomatidae Parasites,” was inspired by her interest in veterinary medicine and disease. 

“When I heard about the Crithidia project from a Haverford student who graduated last year, Julia Gallagher-Teske [‘20], I instantly became fascinated,” she said. “My peaked interest was a result of a few things: hearing how enjoyable Julia’s experience with the project was, the sense of excitement that comes with investigating an understudied mechanism, and the fact that this work has greater context in human and animal communities, as many of Crithidia’s parasitic relatives contribute to a number of zoonotic [spread from animals to humans] Neglected Tropical Diseases.” 

The biology major and environmental studies minor analyzed the adhesion mechanism of Crithidia fasciculata in hopes of better understanding the adhesion mechanism of its more infectious relatives such as Trypanosoma and Leishmania species. “Because all of these organisms require adhesion to insect vectors as a mode of transmission, treatments aimed at decreasing the spread of these parasites and the diseases that they carry can be targeted at this mechanism of adherence,” Pascarella explained. “Many of these illnesses are Neglected Tropical Diseases, which are generally inflicted on areas of the world that lack access to clean water and/or have poor sanitation methods.”

Pascarella was advised by Associate Professor and Chair of Biology Rachel Hoang. They bonded through their shared interest in veterinary medicine. Professor Hoang connected Pascarella with Michael Povelones, the leader of the Crithidia project and head researcher at PennVet. 

“Both Rachel and Michael have been nothing short of incredible this past year,” said Pascarella. “They were always willing to schedule meetings with me to discuss any new findings and steps forward. I am extremely grateful for their guidance and I could have not accomplished what I did this year without them! “

What did you learn from working on your thesis? 
Although I have gained knowledge about different microorganisms and disease transmission, my greatest takeaway from senior research was an appreciation for the resilience that scientists have. Especially this year, with so many unknowns and a lack of time, conducting a senior thesis felt  rather challenging and stressful at certain points. A number of my experiments failed early on and I had to adjust my plans for my projects multiple times throughout the year. The need to remain calm, confident, and flexible when things did not go as planned is a lesson that I will carry with me past Haverford in all my future endeavors, research-related or not. 

What are your plans for the future?
I will be a student at PennVet next year, hoping to receive my VMD degree in May of 2025! My senior thesis helped me gain background knowledge of a number of zoonotic diseases and microorganisms that I will likely revisit throughout my veterinary education. Learning about these different zoonotic parasites will help me to not only protect animals, but also educate humans about how to safely interact with different species. 

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.