Posted December 31, 2007
Although in his emeritus status he’ll continue to pursue his research interests, Delane Kritsky, Ph.D., associate dean of the Kasiska College of Health Professions, has retired during fall semester 2007 from teaching and administrative duties after a 33-year career at Idaho State University.
“It has been rewarding being at ISU because I was able to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do at most other institutions,” Kritsky said. “I’ve been in administration for many years now, but I’ve still been able to carry out research.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Minot State College, Minot, N.D., and his master’s from Sacramento State College, both in the biology, Kritsky earned his doctorate in zoology from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1971.
He came to ISU in 1974 as an assistant professor in what was then called the College of Health-Related Professions. He moved through the ranks to become a full professor in 1983, and he continued to teach courses through spring semester 2007 in several departments in what is now the Kasiska College of Health Professions.
Kritsky has been an active administrator for much of his career. From 1979 to 1989 he was the chair of the Department of Allied Health Professions. He was acting dean of the College of Health-Related Professions 1985-1986. He served as associate dean for the Kasiska College of Health Professions from 1989 until his retirement.
A national job search is being undertaken for finding Kritsky’s replacement. In the meantime, Linda Rankin, Ph.D., associate professor of health and nutrition sciences, and David Sorenson, Ph.D., professor of communication sciences and disorders/education of deaf, are sharing his former associate dean duties.
Although administrative and teaching duties have paid the bills, it is the pinhead-sized and smaller parasitic worms inhabiting fish gills that are the true research love of Kritsky, who will continue to do research in his retirement.
While Kritsky has studied a broad range of parasites, he is a world authority on a type of small flatworms known as the Monogenoidea in the genus Gryodactylid, a scientific grouping of the animals. This may sound like an esoteric interest to the average person, but Kritsky’s research has sent him all over the world and his expertise has attracted inquires from scientists around the globe. Since he began studying these worms in the mid 1960s, his research interest has taken him to South America, Mexico, Australia, India, China, several European countries and throughout North America. He’s identified hundreds of new species of these critters and studied their natural history. Sometimes the objects of his studies are sent to him, other times he’s canoed through tropical rivers in the jungle to catch his own fish and their associated parasites.
Kritsky had his initial scientific training in zoology. Not many people can call themselves parasitologists, but that is what Kritsky is ¬– someone who studies parasites, their hosts and the relationship between them.
“I use the worms as a model to study biogeographical evolution, trying to understand where animals live and the factors that placed them there,” Kritsky said. “We’re using these worms as a model to understand their distribution on a global basis.”
This kind of basic research can help scientists understand broader issues.
“In my mind, there’s a value in just understanding nature and knowing about nature,” Kritsky said. “In the 1930s we knew little about this group of worms, but now we have people all over the world studying them. We’re not only learning specific information about this group, but we can use them as a model. When you have specialized knowledge about this group it is possible to extrapolate information and utilize it to explain other things.”
As a specialist, Kritsky is a parasitologist, but at a more basic scientific-practicing level he is a taxonomist, a biologist who specializes in the classification of organisms into groups on the basis of their structure, origin and behavior. Within his specialty he can accurately tell you what is what.
Basic taxonomy comes in and out of fashion as a scientific field. This type of work isn’t as sexy, perhaps, as using expensive machines to examine the composition of DNA, and it isn’t the kind of research that is likely to bring in six- and seven-figure National Science Foundation grants. Kritsky’s research vocation requires pain-staking analysis examining the small parasites under a microscope and using his overall knowledge of the animals to properly identify them. However, there is little money in basic taxonomy and there is minimal funding support at a national level, Kritsky said.
This is a disturbing trend to Kritsky. There is a lot of talk about the importance of biodiversity and our understanding of it that potentially effects the way everything from how fisheries to forests are managed. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer experts available who have the basic and vital knowledge and skills to identify many organisms.
“You’re getting molecular biologists who don’t know anything about the animal they’re studying. They just grind it up and analyze it, and it is getting difficult for them to even identify the organism. It’s a real problem,” Kritsky said. “It’s almost like taxonomists like myself are on the way to extinction.”
And that could have important ramifications on the basic understanding of our world.