picture of Randy DeJong

The American Society of Parasitologists (ASP), the largest group of scientists studying parasitic organisms (tapeworms, malaria, etc.) in the world, will award Dr. Randall J. DeJong the prestigious A.C. Cuckler New Investigator Award at its July 2004 meeting in Philadelphia.

Dr. Cuckler had a successful 20-year career in the discovery and development of antiparasitic drugs at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research. He retired from Merck in 1975 as Executive Director for Animal Science Research, and died in 2000. In his memory, his family made a generous donation to the ASP to fund the New Investigator Award, which recognizes a promising young parasitologist each year at its national meeting.

DeJong finished his Ph.D. degree in 2003 under the direction of Dr. Eric S. Loker, Regents’ Professor and current Chair of Biology at UNM. DeJong is described by his advisor as everything a young investigator should be: “passionate about his work, talented, able to produce a high quality product in a timely fashion, independent-minded, willing and able to form his own opinions, broadly-trained in modern methods, ready to make important contributions, receptive to new ideas, techniques and circumstances, able to interact well with colleagues both in our lab and far afield, and giving of his time to junior colleagues. Further, he is a superb and productive scientist, an excellent organizer, a talented and thorough writer, and an interactive colleague.”

During his five years as a Ph.D. student at UNM, DeJong published nine papers; remarkable for their global perspective and the breadth and depth of their taxon coverage, they all appear in excellent journals and have set high standards in the fields of schistosome and snail phylogenetics and phylogeography. One of his major papers is described as the most comprehensive study of the medically important gastropod genus Biomphalaria published to date; it argues that the genus is not Gondwanian as previously thought, but in fact originated in the Americas and spread to Africa within the past five million years via a long-distance dispersal event. This scenario has since been corroborated by workers in other laboratories, by studies of the African fossil record, and has important implications for understanding the evolution of human schistosomes, particularly Schistosoma mansoni.
In recognition of these achievements, Dr. DeJong will be the fourth recipient of the Cuckler New Investigator award. Currently, he is doing postdoctoral work in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.