Problem Library

An Unwanted Souvenir

Length: 1 Hour or Less

Discipline: Biological Sciences

Level: Intermediate (majors and non-majors)

Author: Tallitsch, Robert

“Ralph is a young botany professor of Swedish heritage at a Midwestern liberal arts college. Ralph, who was born in the U.S., became interested in Latin America because of his wife’s Latino heritage. He applied for, and participated in an Academic Term Abroad in Latin America during the fall trimester of the 2001-2002 academic year. Upon receiving tenure, Ralph was granted a sabbatical leave. He traveled to, and studied the local flora in Central and South America. Shortly after landing in Latin America, Ralph encountered intermittent attacks of diarrhea with associated abdominal discomfort. On some instances, Ralph moved his stools 5-10 times in a day. Nonetheless, Ralph had a good appetite and continued to work, attributing the discomfort to his G.I. tract’s adjustment to the new food and associated spices. His symptoms would periodically disappear and then reappear later, never lasting longer than 1-2 weeks at a time.
Upon returning the States to analyze his data and submit it for publication, his symptoms worsened. His appetite decreased significantly, he lost a great deal of weight and became unable to continue his normal professorial duties. He made an appointment to see his family physician.
The results of Ralph’s physical examinations are outlined, and students are asked to develop a hypothesis as to a diagnosis of Ralph’s condition as well as answer anatomically-related and microbiology-related questions.”

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