October 21, 2014  

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World Renowned Parasitologist Overstreet Receives Top Honor

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Dr. Robin Overstreet will receive the Eminent Parasitologist Lectureship Award at the American Society of Parasitologists Conference this week in New Orleans. (Submitted photo)

Dr. Robin Overstreet, professor emeritus in the Department of Coastal Sciences at The University of Southern Mississippi, will receive the Eminent Parasitologist Lectureship Award at the American Society of Parasitologists (ASP) Conference set for July 24-27 in New Orleans.

The Lectureship honors someone of eminence and international visibility for a substantial contribution to parasitology over a significant period. Overstreet is being honored by the ASP for his many and prolific accomplishments over a 45-year career at the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss.

Overstreet’s impact on marine biology and parasitology in particular has been impressive. He is an internationally recognized Marine Parasitologist who continues to make significant contributions to his chosen field, while also conducting research and mentoring students.

“I’m proud. I feel this reflects on the abilities of my past and present students and technicians,” said Overstreet about receiving this prestigious award.  

The ASP is a diverse group of more than 800 scientists from industry, government, and academia who are interested in the study and teaching of Parasitology. Parasites and parasitic diseases infect well over 1 billion people and cause severe health and economic damage. Malaria alone infects over 200 million people and kills 1 million annually.

Having grown up in Eugene, Oregon, Overstreet served in the Navy from 1957-1959. During that time, his naval service on icebreakers took him to both poles. He developed an interest in oceanography while working with the civilian oceanographers that were on board with him to collect biological specimens.

After finishing his service in the Navy, he returned to Oregon and enrolled in the University of Oregon as a business major. After changing his major to science, his interest in parasitology was ignited and he began spending time aboard shrimp boats along the Oregon coast conducting detailed studies of parasites of cephalopods (octopuses.)

Overstreet went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts in General Biology. He received both his master’s degree and doctorate in Marine Biology from the University of Miami. He ultimately attended Tulane Medical School as a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow in Parasitology.

Besides enhancing knowledge of the ecology and biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico, Overstreet’s research has contributed to three main disciplines: Marine Parasitology, Aquaculture and Fisheries Science, and Environmental Biology and Neoplasms.  Overstreet has been honored with 27 patronymics (parasites named for him), which in the field of parasitology is high praise for a researchers work.

He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, garnered almost $20 million in extramural support for his own research and collaborated on a total of about $50 million in research funding. He is now or has been affiliate faculty (or equivalent) at 13 institutes of higher learning in the United States, Australia, Mexico and Italy.

Overstreet has mentored students from high school to post-graduate, 16 of which earned their graduate degrees working in his lab. He has always been a fierce supporter of his graduate students with a sink-or-swim approach to his instruction -- not one of handholding. An impressive 30 percent of his graduates have matriculated into academia and federal agencies.

Overstreet’s extensive knowledge of one particular group of parasites, trematodes (commonly called flukes) was utilized to help save the commercial catfish industry. In the early ‘00’s, the southeastern United States catfish industry had a monumental issue with “worms” affecting their product. Answering the call for help, he identified and described the new species of trematode as the cause of the infection and determined its life cycle.

He went on to advise the catfish farmers to eradicate the snail that served as the host for a fluke that infected pelicans transmitted to the catfish. The pelicans, which would fly over and hunt in the catfish ponds, transmitted the parasite to the catfish. The best management practices he recommended as a solution remain in place today and have been critical to the catfish industry. The catfish industry is the largest aquaculture producer in the United States and a multi-million dollar-per-year industry.