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TWiP 15 Letters

Eric writes:

Doctors Racaniello and Despomier,

My name is Eric and I am an undergraduate student at DePauw University, a small liberal arts institution in Greencastle Indiana. I am part of a science research program but because I don't have the capacity to conduct publication quality research with the resources at DePauw I have had to look elsewhere to get my laboratory fix. I spent last summer at the University of Notre Dame conducting informatics in a Toxoplasma lab with Dr. Kristin Hager and most recently took a semester off campus to spend 40 hours a week in the lab of Dr. David Roos at the University of Pennsylvania. My research thus far has centered around functional and comparative genomics in the Apicomplexa but I am fascinated by all things microbial. Now that I have left UPenn I really miss the research lectures and the conversations with people in the lab. TWiV and TWiP help fill this void as big names in research don't come to speak at little liberal arts schools.

Anyway I have a hypothetical procedure for tracking mice and monitoring behavior in infected vs. non infected mice. There are many different strains of Toxoplasma gondii but traditionally the Toxo community into 3 groups: Type I, Type II, and Type III. I'm not sure which type of strains are most likely to show up in wild mice but it would be interesting to see not only if infection changes behavior but if the behavior is strain specific. So first I would set up traps and capture wild mice. I would test them for the presence of Toxo as well as screen the positive mice for strain type. The different strains are well characterized (http://toxodb.org/toxo/) and we could use PCR and strain specific primers for the characterization.

The key step would be the tracking. One of my best friends is a PhD student in Dr. Giles Duffields lab at the University of Notre Dame. The Duffield lab works with Anopheles gambiae. Without ruining Sam's PhD project I will just say that the lab has developed what is essentially a nano-particle type GPS system. They can tag mosquitoes with the device and then release them into the environment, tracking the mosquitoes movement in real time. The hope is that the tracking will lead to a better understanding of how mosquitoes interact with their environment so that we can control the spread of malaria and other Anopheles vectored diseases. If this chip can be outfitted to a mosquito, I would bet that I could stick it in a mouse without changing mouse behavior.

Once released, all of the mice could be monitored in real time and behavior shifts should appear as changes in movement. It would not be necessary to try and capture any cats or recapture mice to find data because everything would be digitally tracked. This experiment would not help in terms of causation as to why the infection changes behavior but it would be a great indicator as to whether or not there actually was a change in behavior. Causation falls back to microarrays and analysis of Next-Gen sequencing, which I am hoping to dive into in grad school next year.

Without knowing exactly how the tracking particles work I can't outline much more of a procedure but I know the particles exist and the way they will be applied to tropical disease research is pretty amazing.

Keep cranking out TWiP and TWiV. I find them at the perfect level of comprehension for an undergraduate lab rat such as myself and I can't wait to see which parasite is next.


Terry writes:

Hello Vincent & Dickson

I absolutely love your podcasts and share both TWIP and TWIV with my microbiology students, as well as (when appropriate) my Anatomy & Physiology students.

I have two questions for Dickson.

1) In your ongoing malaria discussions, could you elaborate on the relationship between malaria and sickle cell (and other such interrelationships with malaria). I discuss this in both microbiology and during the blood lectures of A&P. (currently only 15 minutes through episode#10, forgive me if this is covered already).

2) Your stories of science history spark tales I heard back in the late 70's and early 80's of my undergraduate days and into grad school. I had some amazingly well read professors during my time at Midwestern State and at Univ. of North Texas. Those historical tales always thrilled me, and I love bringing those to life in my own lectures when I can. Do you have any recommendations for books of science history, especially those that are as intriguing as some of the tales you share on TWIP?

Many thanks - and please, keep up the good work!


Jim writes:


Great TWIP 8, of course!

Additional listening about the vaccine for malaria in episode 49 of Meet The Scientists by Dr Irwin Sherman at: http://www.microbeworld.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=640:mts49-irwin-sherman-the-quest-for-a-malaria-vaccine&catid=37:meet-the-scientist&Itemid=155 It's about 25 mins long.


Just saw reference to biohacking and saw this site, http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_biohacking_hobbyist/ and another, http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000582.php , that indicate a possible trend.

Smithfield, VA

Jim writes:

Vince and Dick,

I heard an audio segment about tapeworm infection via cats and dogs that lead to liver cysts and death that surprised me. I thought tapeworms were confined to the intestines. So I googled the topic and see, as in this linkhttp://emedicine.medscape.com/article/786292-overview that there are several species, and primary or intermediary phases, and multi-organ infection in some cases. Please consider this topic for discussion in a future episode of This Week in Parasitology. The linked article was authored by a couple folks in your neck of the woods in case they are willing to participate in the discussion.

Smithfield, VA

Jim writes:


Have diagnostic conditions changed for parasitology from this quote in a 10-year old text?

"Diagnostic methods for protozoal diseases have not changed fundamentally for many generations, and the sophisticated devices used for bacterial and viral detection have not yet reached the parasitology laboratory. Cultivation methods for pathogenic protozoa are difficult, and a correct diagnosis often depends on direct observation of tissue specimens together with a sense of intuition and understanding of the patterns of disease..."

p. 487, "Fundamentals of Microbiology" 5th ed, I. Edward Alcamo, Ph.D, c1997

Dr Alcamo was at SUNY when the text was published. Perhaps he would like to comment?

Smithfield, VA

Jim writes:

Sent a reference to it and comment about outhouses on piers over lakes by Scandinavian settlers to
Prairie Home Companion. Expect to hear about it in an upcoming Lake Woebegon segment.

Smithfield, VA

#8 was good, too, but nothing beats your reparte.

Todd writes:

Hi Guys, I heard you on Futures in Biotech and just yesterday decided to download all the Twiv and Twip podcasts and add you to my RSS reader!

I'm not in the medical field, but have an intense interest in science and technology, and I have been impressed with your ability to break the information down for the laypeople in your previous appearances on FIB, so now I'll be getting a regular dose of you directly.

When my fiancee came home last night, I told her about your podcasts, and she told me she had just rec'd and email from a friend with Ulcerative Colitis. This poor woman has suffered terribly with it for years and has found little to control it. In this email she mentioned that she was considering Helminthic Therapy, mentioning also it involved parasites, and my fiancee wondered if I had heard of such a thing. I had not...we discussed therapeutic maggots, a topical use, but I was not aware of anything that would be injected or ingested, so I checked online for the answers and decided I should just ask the experts.

Any information or opinions I could pass onto our friend would be appreciated.

Thanks for your continued great work.

Denver CO


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