McKenna Turrill grew up in northern Michigan surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and quickly grew to love nature and the outdoors.

Fast forward to now, McKenna is a senior, majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology with a Spanish minor. She is also interested in medicine and the health care field. By studying host-parasite interactions at the University of Michigan, she enjoyed “the best of both worlds.”

“I learned about the ecology of parasitism, which also has many applications in the medical field. I am investigating why a bacterial parasite causes its normally transparent zooplankton host to turn a bright red color when infected. We are testing the best methods to quantify the color in the host and also asking questions about how the color influences the host in its environment in freshwater lakes.

“Our research will contribute to the exploration of how color mediates host-parasite interactions in nature. We also hope to be broadening the field of visual ecology by applying it to the understudied world of color in microparasites. I am on the way to becoming an optometrist but hope to stay connected with the field of ecology and its community.”

McKenna Turrill with her research group at the U-M Biological Station having some fun with aspirators (used to catch insects). Left to right: Franny Melampy, McKenna Turrill, Kiran Goyal and Reid Osborn. Image: John Den Uyl.

McKenna is working in the lab of EEB Professor Meghan Duffy who co-advises her with Nina Wale, an EEB postdoctoral fellow. McKenna begins optometry school in fall 2019 at the
University of California, Berkeley. “I love that the research McKenna is doing is solidly in the realm of ecology and evolutionary biology, but also very clearly linked with her future career interests,” said Meghan.

“Transitioning from a very small high school in a rural area to a large university was difficult for me. I struggled by trying to be academically competitive with new classmates that had different backgrounds from me and then losing confidence when I felt like I couldn’t compare. I soon learned that everyone has a different upbringing and it was not healthy to compare myself to others. I realized the importance of asking questions and I acquired new strategies that allowed me to be successful.”

McKenna, who’s in the Honors Program in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, is currently president of MRun-Michigan Running Club. “I love being able to run with all of my closest friends as well as have the opportunity to compete in races and participate in club community service events and team bonding activities.”

“McKenna’s honor’s thesis brings together two fields of ecology (specifically, disease ecology and visual ecology). But this isn’t all she’s done --  she's been involved in my efforts to develop a new parasite of Daphnia as a laboratory system from the start, so she's had a wide range of lab and field experiences,” said Nina. “She was also a coauthor on one of our recent papers and is a leader of the UMich running club – so she's a great example to future young researchers on what can be achieved in and out of their studies!”