Graduate Student Feature: Riley Tedrow

Riley Tedrow earned his undergraduate degree in Biology at CWRU in 2015. He recently completed his PhD in Biology in the lab of Dr. Peter Zimmerman.

I wasted no time finding a research position at CWRU. Within a few weeks of beginning my first year as an undergrad in the Department of Biology, I was volunteering in the lab of Dr. Mike Benard and pinning insects at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Seeing that I was eager to get my feet wet and hands dirty, my new research mentor, Dr. Gavin Svenson, graciously allowed me to design and execute a fieldwork-based summer research project through the CMNH Kirtlandia Society Adopt-a-Student Program. I continued to train and work under Dr. Svenson’s guidance, and in subsequent years was granted the opportunity to join him in the hunt for elusive praying mantises across the globe.

We caught hundreds of insects across Rwanda, Vietnam, and Puerto Rico. Our findings led to several publications describing species new to science and expanding the ranges of known species, This project gave me valuable experience in scientific writing and the peer-review process.

I received a unique blend of training from the CMNH, including taxonomy, systematics, genetics, field operations, science communication, and specimen curation. I used every aspect of this skillset in my graduate biology career, working with Dr. Peter Zimmerman in the Center for Global Health and Disease in the CWRU School of Medicine. I set to work building a novel molecular assay for the simultaneous assessment of mosquito species, mammalian blood, and malaria parasites (BLOODART, the Bloodmeal Detection Assay for Regional Transmission), a tool that could contribute to the malaria elimination goals of our study country, Madagascar or any country.

In a brainstorming session I had with my former advisor, Dr. Svenson, and my current advisor, Dr. Zimmerman, we created a new tool for collecting outdoor mosquito vectors, a group of potential disease carriers traditional strategies often fail to address. I deployed this trap in remote villages in Madagascar, gaining insight into both the entomological and anthropological aspects of disease transmission. Shortly before departing the country, we identified key training gaps in the National Malaria Control Program in Madagascar. Working with contacts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we organized a training mission that allowed me to return to Madagascar and train parasitology and entomology technicians, improving disease control capacity in the country. From there I made additional collections in the rural highlands of Madagascar, finishing off a data set that we are currently analyzing on multiple fronts with collaborators within and beyond the Department of Biology.

I’ve found that I truly enjoy the operational side of entomology, and have taken the non-traditional career path of a commissioned officer in the US Navy. My role as a medical entomologist for the armed forces will change frequently based on the needs of the country, with responsibilities including (but not limited to) research that improves our capacity to mitigate and treat disease, protection of the warfighter against insect-borne pathogens, and participation in a forward-deployed preventative medicine unit, a small rapid response team designed to provide support during humanitarian crises (my first stop post-graduation). Case Western Reserve and the Department of Biology has provided me with a wealth of opportunities, and my endless thanks go out to the faculty, students, and staff that helped me to capitalize on my time here.

Riley Tedrow in Madagascar

Dr. Tedrow was recently published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. His paper can be found here: