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TWiP 36 Letters

Trudy writes:

Dear Drs. Despommier and Racaniello,

I am almost caught up listening to TWiP! I look forward to your future efforts and eBooks, etc., however, in TWiP # 32, I thought I heard you mention that there would be a link to Dr. Despommier's lectures. I couldn't wait to go to your website and check them out. Unfortunately, the link was missing. You know what they say about the missing link, don't you? It must be a cryptid! But seriously, hope you will post the link to the lectures at your next opportunity. Please? :-)

I am dreading listening to # 33 because there are no more TWiPs available yet. I live in a semi tropical climate in SW Florida so tropical diseases and parasites are especially interesting. The only good thing about being current with your series, is that I can start to catch up on TWiVs and TWiMs. I did find Dr. Racaniello's lectures in Virology on iTunes and am watching this series. I started with the hepatitis Delta virus. It is of special interest to me as are all forms of viral hepatitis.

Dr. Despommier, please consider doing a podcast on vertical farming and even throw in some other tidbits of gardening wisdom.

I took the user survey as you request. Perhaps the results will help you in your future efforts. The way you two work together on TWiP makes for a delightful experience. Science, medicine and pathogens "float my boat" so it is a great pleasure to have two learned professors so engaged in interesting discussions.

I have written before. Hope this isn't too much. Consider that you are talking (via my earbuds) straight into my noggin: I feel like I know you both and it is an honor.

Best regards,

Peter writes:


Brian writes:

Vincent & Dickson,

My wife pointed me to TWIP and what a blast. My 23 year old son and I are making our way through the early episodes during our commute to and from work and loving every minute of it. After listening to the tapeworm episodes I will NEVER pet a dog from Wyoming or any other of the sheep states.

I'm not sure if you have covered the evolution of parasites, we're only up to episode 9, but that must be as crazy as ever. Surely you have enough material for several years worth of podcasts, but I'd like to hear a bit about how an animal accumulates such a bizarre life history.


Peter writes:

Dear TWiP team.

I was speculating about parasites that modify host behaviour and a possible strategy that may have evolved in those transmitted by blood feeding vectors.

To achieve optimum transmission of the parasite uninfected blood feeding insect vectors should find infected hosts more attractive than uninfected ones and once the insect vector had itself become infected its behaviour should change so that it would then preferentially seek uninfected hosts.

Has any research been done to determine whether any parasites that employ blood feeding vectors actually do modify host smell and vector preference in this manner?

As I was writing I was thinking of arthropod vectors such as mosquitoes and biting flies but it occurred to me that there are other possible blood feeding vectors such as vampire bats and leaches whose behaviour could also be potentially modified in this way.
Are there any zoonotic infections that are transmitted by leach vectors?

Lastly, I have seen blood feeders described as Hematophagous and Sanguivorous are these synonymous, and if not what is the correct/preferred term?


Gopal writes:

Hello, Vincent & Dick,

This month's issue of The Scientist has this interesting article:


Can't help wondering, somewhat uneasily, what our own parasites make us do!



Don writes:

In your discussion of Wolbachia in filariasis, Vincent suggested tetracycline for therapy. Dickson opined that it was too toxic and expensive . Au contraire, in the QID form it is "dirt cheap" and has been used widely since the mid 50's. Prolonged use does cause mottling of the teeth, and florescence of the bones under Woods light, not a problem for most of us. Wonderful Podcast, and deeply appreciated. Thanks

Kyle writes:

Top O' The Mornin' To Ya! (I'm not Irish - I just like the phrase..)

I would like to thank you for putting together such an excellent podcast. I'm currently a Med Tech working in a parasitology laboratory and enjoy my days searching through blood and pooh for those tiny life forms that you describe so well. I was introduced to the world of parasites by a course I took as an undergrad. The course instructor was one Dr. James B. Jensen. Judging from your earlier talks, I trust that this name will sound familiar. As you can imagine, the course taught by such a well known parasitologist was an amazing experience. I have a great passion for parasitology, and I'll see what kind of future I can put together. Thanks again for the great shows. I encourage you to continue, and add my voice to those that are calling for more. It is This WEEK in parasitism, you know! :)


Jim writes:

Vincent and Dick,

Delighted to hear the latest TWIP on the malaria vaccine. You guys mentioned using impregnated bed nets to reduce malaria. The NY Times had an article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27mosquito.html

This article described using poisoned bait to reduce the mosquito populations by a bunch like 90%. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Was also delighted to hear you guys are going to have more TWIP.

Am still devoted to TWIP, M, V.
Thanks much and 73

Kelly writes:

Hi, Vincent and Dickson.

I'm a PhD student at the University of California Davis and a long-time listener of This Week in Parasitism and This Week in Virology. I have a great appreciation for the fact that you two are successful scientists who take time out of your busy schedules to share your love of parasites and viruses with the general public. In fact, I was so inspired by This Week in Parasitism that I have since begun podcasting about science topics myself! Thanks for the inspiration!

I thought you two might be interested in an "experiment" in science crowdfunding called the SciFund Challenge. One exciting aspect of this experiment is that we're exploring a potential new source of funding (i.e., the general public) for small science projects at a time when everyone seems to be complaining about how difficult it is to get grant money. While this aspect of the experiment is certainly exciting, the most exciting part to me is the fact that crowdfunding forces scientists to engage with the public. Not only does the public get a chance to learn about cutting edge research, but they get the opportunity to have a voice in deciding the direction of future research through the money they donate.

While I think you might be interested in learning about a program incentivizing scientist engagement with the public, my motives are not entirely altruistic. I have a SciFund project focusing on how trematode parasites manipulate the behavior of their hosts, and I'm wondering if you would be willing to help me get exposure to my RocketHub proposal for this project (URL is here: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/3737-support-zombie-research, or go to RocketHub.com and search "Support Zombie Research"). I study Euhaplorchis californiensis (EUHA), a trematode parasite infecting the brains of California killifish. EUHA manipulates the neurochemistry and behavior of their fish hosts, a fact which I find endlessly fascinating. These parasites have essentially had millions of years to figure out how the fish's brain works, and to figure out how to manipulate brain chemistry to achieve their own goals. I'm working on quantifying the extent to which the parasites modify the behavior of their host, and am trying to figure out the mechanism by which these parasites achieve their extraordinary behavioral manipulation. I believe parasites have a lot to tell us about how brain chemistry influences behavior, and I think of my research as an exercise in coercing EUHA to tell me what it has learned over millions of years about brains and behavior.

If you would be willing to tweet about my project or mention it in any other way, I would be endlessly appreciative. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about my study system, as it's pretty much my favorite thing in the world to discuss!

Trudy writes:

Dear Drs. Racaniello and Despommier,

I just discovered your wonderful Podcasts! I am a registered nurse who has an unusual background. I worked as a diener at a teaching hospital while working my way through college. My mom was an RN also when there were few vaccines. She graduated in 1935. She would often discuss what she had seen as a public health and Army nurse anesthestist in WWII. She had a library of medical textbooks that I enjoyed reading . I spent part of my career as a nurse epidemiologist (county public health practice) and as an STD clinician, where I got to work with all kinds of infectious diseases and conditions (viral, bacterial and of course parasitic.)

I have been interested in infectious diseases and conditions since I was a young child when I got my first microscope. Also I have been lucky enough to live in semi tropical Florida for over 30 years. The University of S. Florida still has a great series of podcasts from their medical school's Division of Infectious Diseases. They also discuss tropical medicine and have a College of Public Health.

My first in person experience with a parasite specimen which really "hooked" me on microbiology was that of a tapeworm which was in a huge (tall) container in the foyer of Abbott Labs in Chicago. I was with a group of High School students which had a NSF grant in collaboration with Northwestern University's College of Medicine.

I have been fortunate to see a lot of interesting things because I also did some bio-medical illustrations. I am both an artist and a nurse.

To make a long winded email shorter...Your podcasts are infectious...I believe there is no cure or treatment other than continuing as a listener to you discuss microbes in your most engaging fashion.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

Trudy in Naples, Florida

Paul writes:

Hi guys

Just discovered the podcast.
Listening to 2 shows a day ...working my way up.....absolutely love it....love dr. House ..parasite rex....and monsters inside me:)
While gathering information about parasites i often see these so called zappers little devices that kill parasites ..what are your thoughts on these.....and the history of using electric devices in killing parasites.

Greetings from switzerland

Josh writes:

Dear Drs. Despommier and Racaniello,

I am an auditor. To occupy my mind while I work I started scouring iTunes for science rich content. I saw your show "TWIP" and thought why not? I think the first TWIP I listened to was #33. I was immediately hooked. I went home and subscribed to TWIP, TWIM, and TWIV that night.

Currently I am listening to all of the TWIPs in a row before I start the other shows. I love the education, the ick factor is pretty high but this show provides me with an EXCELLENT free education, and helps me confront fears that were boogey men in my mind by giving me real quantifiable behaviors and characteristics of many things I have had uninformed fears about ( i.e. Trichinella, Toxoplasmosis, and tapeworms).

I am very saddened that I didn't know who Dr. Despommier was prior to November of this year. In the Spring of 2011 I was writing a business plan for my entrepreneurship class and I advocated that my group do our project on vertical farming. We were unable to find any resource that would provide us with information on how to successfully integrate a vertical farming business into an urban area such as Phoenix AZ, where our fictitious business had to be. We had thought about potentially buying a tall structure like an empty condo tower, or office building and converting it into a farm, or placing farms on roof tops (kind of like they do in Cuba). Sadly we couldn't find any cost to benefit analysis, yield per acre data, or potential profit margins with which to build our fictitious business plan. We ended up using another idea of mine, recycled building material sales. I remain sad that we were unable to write a plan for vertical farming.

Thank you for providing me with such a wealth of free information. Thank you for presenting it in such a content rich way, without spoon feeding the listener. Please continue to do these shows. I am indifferent to frequency as long as I can continue to have access to your knowledge and experiences.


Rachel writes:

Dear Dr. Racaniello and Dr. Despommier,

I'm in the process of choosing a career (PhD or MD)

I would love to follow in your footsteps and become a professor, researching parasites and leading the young minds to new discoveries! However, when talking with my parasitology teacher it seemed like he was discouraging me due to the lack funding and interest in the subject. I wanted to know your opinion, especially Dr. Despommier's. Do you think part of your success in your area of research came from the 'newness' of the subject or is there still an opening for hopeful parasitologists.

Thanks for all the work you both put in to the TWI series, I am a huge fan.

I am waiting anxiously for the next installment of TWIP.


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