College of Science; Research

Between the lines: Pathogens. We study them because they’re only a plane ride (or closer) away


Clemson’s EPIC researchers are working to better understand pathogens, so eventually the diseases they cause might be more easily eradicated.

A purple line-sketch illustration of three overlapping worm-like figures slowly moving up and down. These are malaria pathogens.


This life-threatening disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable, but in 2021, there were an estimated 247 million cases worldwide. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 619,000 in 2021.

African sleeping sickness

Caused by parasites of genus Trypanosoma and transmitted by infected tsetse flies, this disease is endemic in 36 sub-Saharan African countries where there are tsetse flies that transmit the disease. Without treatment, the disease is considered fatal.

A purple line-sketch drawing of a tsetse fly and larvae moving in a slow, circular pattern. These are the parasites that cause African sleeping sickness.

Three overlapping purple lline-sketch drawings of the parasite Trypanosoma cruziparasite that causes Chagas disease moving in a slow, counterclockwise motion.

Chagas disease

Also known as American trypanosomias, this potentially life-threatening illness is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. An estimated 6 to 7 million people worldwide are infected with T. cruzi although Chagas disease is found mainly in endemic areas of 21 continental Latin American countries.

Fungal meningitis

Caused by the pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans, it is not common in the United States but may mimic acute bacterial meningitis and is often contracted by breathing in fungal spores that may be found in soil, decaying wood and bird droppings. It is not spread from person to person. Rather, it affects people with weakened immune systems, such as from AIDS, and it can cause death if not treated with an antifungal medicine. Even with treatment, fungal meningitis may come back.

Three overlapping purple sketch drawings of potato-shaped pathogens that are Cryptococcus neoformans, which causes fungal meningitis.

Three, purple line-sketch drawings. One has two long tentacles at the bottom of an oval shape, one is circular with a hole in the middle and one has fin-like cusps on the bottom and a wavy mane at the top. This is the pathogen that causes brain-eating amoeba: Naegleria fowleri.

Brain-eating amoeba

The culprit for this disease is Naegleria fowleri, which lives in warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. While the infection is rare, if water containing the amoeba is forced up a person’s nose during activities such as swimming, diving or dunking, the amoeba can travel to the brain, where it causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. It is nearly always fatal — only four of the 152 people with confirmed cases in the United States during the past 60 years have survived.

Meet the professors of EPIC

Headshot of professor Kerry Smith

Kerry Smith

Professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Research focus: Furthering the understanding of the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, the most frequent cause of fungal meningitis

Studio headshot of Cheryl Ingram-Smith

Cheryl Ingram-Smith

Associate Professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Research focus: Metabolic adaptation and morphological conversions in Entamoeba histolytica

Studio headshot of Leslly Temesvari

Lesly Temesvari

Alumni Distinguished Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Research focus: Advancing understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating virulence in Entamoeba histolytica, specifically parasite-host interactions, stress response, vesicle trafficking and lipid rafts

Studio headshot of James Morris

James Morris

Professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Research focus: Understanding the molecular mechanisms employed by protozoan parasites for glucose metabolism to identify possible targets for drug therapy for the illnesses they cause

Meredith Morris

Associate Professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Research focus: Molecular mechanisms of the glycosome, which is an organelle found only in parasites, in trypanosomes

Studio headshot of Kim Paull

Kim Paul

Associate Professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Research focus: Fatty acid metabolism in trypanosomes

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