My CWHC Experience.

Hello! I’m Harveen Atwal and I’m a fourth-year Biology student at the University of British Columbia. Over the past 9 months I have been working with the BC Node of the CWHC under the supervision of Dr. Chelsea Himsworth and Dr. Kaylee Byers. This placement has been a great fit for my interests because I am passionate about One Health with a focus on wildlife health and zoonotic diseases. When I’m not pursuing my academic interests, I enjoy carving out the ice or sprinting along the wing when playing ice hockey and soccer. I typically settle down by reading through my stack of comic books.

As part of the BC node of the CWHC, I’ve contributed to a variety of projects involving study design, sampling, data analysis, and knowledge translation. For example, the main project I have been working on is to assess urban rats for their potential to carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  

During the course of this project, I performed over 100 rat necropsies to collect tissue for diagnostic testing. This involved not only doing the lab work but also modifying standard operating procedures for the project, creating and managing databases, and assisting in drafting study results. The project is ongoing but has been an exciting opportunity to see how researchers in different disciplines come together to tackle a health issue that impacts people and some species of animals.

In addition to this project, I’ve also been working on a study to evaluate bat diets in BC. Bats provide a great ecological service by acting as a natural source of pest control. This saves the agricultural industry lots of money each year. In the US they have estimated that this is even up to 23 million dollars annually. But in BC we have limited information on what our bats are eating and whether any of these species are agricultural pests. This summer I will be collecting guano samples from across BC to identify bat diets using new genomics tools! I’ll be collecting and preparing samples for genomic analysis and compiling information from the academic literature on bat diet analysis methods.

Working on these projects has revealed to me the mutual and dynamic interactions that exist between the different sectors of humanity, our environment, and animals. Increasing contact with wild populations has led to a growing risk of disease being spread to human populations. Meanwhile, human actions have led to practices harming and reducing wildlife populations. Learning about the ways we are intertwined with wildlife during my time with the CWHC has been instrumental in furthering my One Health interests. I wish to pursue a career focusing on the interface between human and animal interactions especially that of zoonotic diseases.

Submitted by Harveen Atwal

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