WWU Researchers Receive Funding for Ongoing Tick Study

A William Woods University biology professor and three students have Cox Scholars and Dr. Mary Sprattbeen awarded a $750 grant from the Tri Beta National Biological Honors Society for tick research.


Over the past several years, with the help of student assistants, Dr. Mary Spratt has been working to collect and analyze tick DNA from more than 60 Missouri counties.


Since being named WWU’s first Cox Distinguished Professor in Science in 2008, Spratt has chosen students as Cox Scholars to assist with her ongoing research on the prevalence of tick-borne pathogens found in Missouri ticks.


This year, three upper-division biology majors were chosen as Cox Scholars: Allen Chazelle, Fulton, Mo.; Anne DeHart, Keosauqua, Iowa, and Melissa Wilkinson-Franke, Troy, Mo. They also worked with Spratt to complete and submit the grant proposal for the Beta Beta Beta Research Award. 


 “I definitely feel that writing the grant helped to make the approval more rewarding,” DeHart said.  “Writing the proposal took a lot of time and effort on our parts to get it as perfect as possible, so we were all very excited when we got the acceptance letter from Tri-Beta.”


Chazelle, who eventually hopes to go to medical school, added, “I felt honored when Dr. Spratt asked me to be a part of this research group, and to receive this grant—after all of our hard work—adds to that honor.”


Tri Beta National Biological Honors Society is focused on undergraduate students who are dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological research and study, as well as expanding the boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research.


The Beta Beta Beta Research Grant is awarded annually to support deserving undergraduate research projects.


William Woods University’s Cox Scholar research aims to detect the prevalence of tick-borne diseases in Missouri, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis. 


“All are very serious diseases that may cause long-term illness or even death,” Spratt explained.


“All of our tick samples come from Missouri, and we sort them by county,” said Wilkinson-Franke, who has been accepted into the accelerated nursing program at the University of Missouri upon graduation from WWU.


Spratt added, “Later this year sequencing of the positive samples will be done, which precisely reads the genetic code of the bacteria.”


By involving undergraduate students, the project gives them the opportunity to study genetic codes and genes in living organisms and to make substantive contributions to the study of genomics.   


This spring, the students will have the opportunity to present their research at a regional or national meeting of Tri Beta.


The funding received for the Beta Beta Beta Research Award will help to cover the purchase of supplies needed to continue their research.


DeHart, who hopes to become a veterinarian, said, “Research is very expensive to perform so I am very grateful that we have the funds to do this work and that I was given the opportunity to work on a project such as this.” 



Cox Scholars (left to right) Anne DeHart, Melissa Wilkinson-Franke and Allen Chazelle, with their advisor, Dr. Mary Spratt, Cox Distinguished Professor in Science at William Woods University, are conducting research on ticks.