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TWiP 23 Letters

Eric writes:

Dear Vincent and Dickson:

I am retired (40 years in computers) and so I have lots of time to study
anything that interests me. It's good brain exercise and I simply loved
the 3 shows on Trichinella worms. What a fantastic job of explaining a
truly incredible piece of evolutionary 'design' - and the work of a
brilliant scientist who figured much of it out. Twip 3-5 is right up
there with Edward G. Robinson in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet. Following
along with the sketches etc. on the website was great. Vincent asked all
the right questions just as I got confused, which made it feel like I
was there one on one with Dick. I didn't feel I needed to have any
pre-knowledge. Simply a perfect presentation! Nothing like the biology
classes that bored me in high school.

My road to TWIP began by looking for interesting mp3s for my daily
walks. I found twit with Leo Laport. which led to futures in biotech
where one or both of you had been a guest.

Next was twiv which fascinated me because the study of viruses and all
that DNA and RNA stuff was so reminiscent of when I would solve computer
problems by getting out the machine code debugger. None of the younger
guys know that old stuff anymore (they're all 2 layers higher up). But,
just like in a virus, if you know the exact instruction that caused the
problem, you could walk your way back up to the higher level and find a
fix - i.e. intervene and cure the bug. Not always so simple, of
course, sometimes you had to be clever and think of ways to force the
bug out into the open or look at the preceding steps, but the idea seems
similar to the techniques Dick described, especially the "sync" trick he
used. That was a cool one.

For what it's worth, you guys would have made marvelous system geeks,
maybe working in some shop in Taiwan reverse engineering the latest
chips. After all, it seems that's what you're doing. You're working out
the APIs of life, without a manual by watching the ins and outs and
reading the machine code.

I can't help wondering why Dick didn't try to sell his idea in the
marketplace - the one about how to possibly cure diabetes described in
twip 4. Maybe some wealthy person with a child who has the disease might
become interested as a sponsor.

Well, now we have the internet and TWIP, so perhaps this is the best way
to reach out with your ideas. I hope someone takes the ball given the
tremendous lead you've given him or her and solves this problem. Maybe a
Craig Ventor researcher will hear your idea and code up a new bacteria
with some genes taken from Trichinella.

After all, just as computer tech is nearly all software today so it
seems biology has become a variant of IT (e.g. Ventor's Bacteria Shell).
I expect to see a Visual Biology program in the not too distant future -
just click and drag to insert a Sinusoid creating protein.

Regards, and thanks for the great brain exercises!


Jim writes:

Dear Professors, thank you very much for your fine podcasts. I'm a physicist, about the age of Dr. Racaniello, but my career since graduate school has been in public policy, not academia. Since I never took the time to study parasitology, your conversations are new and often astonishing to me - the world is truly wondrous.

And my two questions: First, in your (fairly) recent podcast on pinworms, Professor Despommier explained that each mammalian species seems to have their own pinworm. Do the other mammals also show a clearing of their pinworm parasites at a time analogous to puberty? Or is that an unusual characteristic of our human-pinworm relationship?

Second, a broader question suggested by an odd - to me - phenomenon in insect parasitism: As you probably know, parasitic relationships among insects are quite common. The most familiar are various small wasps (hymenoptera) that parasitize the caterpillars of moths or butterflies (lepidoptera), and which are often useful in controlling lepidoptera pests. The United States often searches for such a native parasite of newly introduced, economically damaging moths, and introduces them to control the moths

In some cases though, even the right parasitic wasp, effective in its native range, doesn't effectively control a new, invasive species of moth in a new region. Hyperparasitism is quite common in these insects - there are yet more species of parasitic wasps which parasitize a range of other wasps parasitizing the caterpillars in a region. They search out the eggs or larvae of the wasps laid in or on a caterpillar, and the hyperparasitizing wasps then infect those eggs or larvae. This can, too commonly, reduce the population density of the wasps parasitizing the caterpillars, and render them ineffective in reducing the number of caterpillars.

Does this occur more broadly? That is, do any of the human parasites you will cover have their own parasites? If they did, or could, that would seem to offer a different path to controlling our parasites.

Finally, on your rate for creating new podcasts - please continue to produce them at whatever rate you can tolerate! I am quite willing to wait to hear your conversations, and would rather wait longer to have more than to have you burn out trying to meet some schedule.

Take care,


Peter writes:

Malaria parasite caught in the act: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/01/20/3117046.htm

Luke writes:

Hello professors,
I saw this paper in Cell Host and Microbe where the authors have captured a movie of a malaria parasite invading a blood cell by using a combination of heparin and E60 to boost the number of events. The paper, itself, I believe is closed access, but the movie is available through this New Scientist article:


Thought it might work well as a pick of the week for twip. Thanks so much for opening up the world of parasites to me through this podcast.

John writes:

Dear Doctors,

I'm sure you will have this in your feeds or sent in by several folks but just in case...


A video of plasmodium entering a red blood cell. Really a series of stills strung together as a movie. Quite fascinating to see the effects about 3/4 of the way through.

Thanks again for the entertaining education and a belated happy new year to the crew.



PS "Another TWiP is spiral" is clearly a masterpiece tagline and should be reconsidered.

Arsen writes:

Hey! Just listened to twip#21, where you said, that the only way to verify, if Ascaris lumbricoides inhibits growth in humans would be to infect a bunch of kids with it and watch them grow (which wouldn't be ethically acceptable). I don't think that this is the only way. Because we have areas with high worm infections already, the incidence of worm infections in an area should be inversely correlated to average height of people living in that area (of course, we should correct for dietary factors etc, but we should know the data for those factors by now)

Keep it up



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