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TWiP 17 Letters

Bjorn writes:

Hi Vincent and Dickson,

I want to correct a statement you made in the trypanosomes episode. Apolipoprotein L-I in human blood kills only the subspecies Trypanosoma brucei brucei, whereas the East African subspecies Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and the West African subspecies Trypanosoma brucei gambiense have evolved mechanisms to escape the lytic Apolipoprotein. This means human infections with these two forms, if untreated, are always lethal. The good news is that through efforts spearheaded by the WHO the number of estimated infected persons has been reduced to about 60.000 per year [WHO 2006].

Thanks for your edutainment-podcasts,

Björn from Germany

Thomas writes:

Greetings Professors:

I originally got hooked on your show after discovering the treasures that awaited me in iTunes Podcasts, specifically Quackcast {Dr. Crislip whose droll sense of humor is quite like mine]. Eventually I discovered TWIP then as an added prize, TWIV. Since I am 71, I have seen the whole practice and concept of medicine change radically, as has almost everything else, in my lifetime. I always had an interest in medicine and back in the '70s even did medical histories for a "Free Clinic" run by volunteers varying in education from MDs to interested amateurs, like myself.

I have been watching the TV show that Prof. Despommier works for as a consultant [Monsters Inside Me]. Unfortunately the show reminds me all too often how so many of the people featured could have saved themselves a lot of time and discomfort if the physicians they dealt with had taken the time to take a medical history at the outset. In fact, I think the first question any doctor should ask is "Have you traveled to a foreign country, and if yes, when?" Also while it may seem wise when you hear hoofbeats to think horses, not zebras, as someone who has visited Tanzania, I always consider zebras as well as horses.

Anyway, your show has allowed me through listening to the same shows many times, to absorb some of the new concepts current in medicine today. Even though my mind is a poor shadow of what it was in my youth, I am still able to learn, just at a slower pace. I recently considered purchasing Mandell's two volume tome on Infectious Diseases. I put it in my my Amazon "shopping cart" where it sat while I gave some serious thought to whether I wanted to spend almost $350 to purchase it. I finally decided not to but found to my ultimate pleasure, that an Amazon "shopping cart" that has something in it and isn't acted upon in a reasonable time activates itself. I am glad it did as I am really enjoying reading it on-line and in the printed version. On-line access and "search" is an added feature if you purchase the book[s]. I think back to when I was a youth and there was a book Dickson might recall as he is advanced enough in years, titled "Not As A Stranger", an interesting novel that fascinated me as it was centered on the education that lead to acquiring an MD degree. How things have changed :-) I had an older copy of Mandell's [sic?] book on Infectious Disease dating back to the early 1980's and it amazes me how so completely a different approach their is to infectious diseases due to our current knowledge and emphasis on both evolution and genetics.

Anyway, continue with the great shows and realize your audience may extend beyond the boundaries of listeners you might have thought interested in it.

Thomas (

Dan writes:

Dear Vincent and Dick,

First, let me say that your podcast is fantastic, very informative, and enjoyable to listen to in the mornings during my commute. The reason I am contacting you both is actually less about the podcast itself, and more in regards to the subject matter, or, how one gets into it. I recently finished my undergraduate degree and am interested in going off to public health school in a few years. I've been interested in the infectious disease aspect of community/international health for a while now, and most of my undergraduate degree focused on medical anthropology and infectious diseases (basic biostatistics, ecology courses, a survey of infectious disease biology, and a class on disease ecology). I've been thinking about the graduate school path, and I know that the spectrum of eukaryotic parasites, particularly the protozoan-caused diseases, are what I would like to focus on. However, as most masters programs don't seem to have a particular "parasitology" concentration (with the exception of Tulane's MSPH...), I was curious what advice you two may have for someone interested in entering the field. Go into epidemiology? Environmental health? Population biology?

Any advice will be much appreciated! Thank you for your time,


Scotty wrote:

Thought you guys might get a kick out of this:

Why Captain Higgins is my favorite parasitic flatworm

Dicrocoelium dendriticum, I salute you.


TWiP 16 Letters

Tom writes:

Dear Mr. Racaniello and Dick,

Thanks for TWIV and TWIP as both are great shows. Such a give and take of history, information and humor. Stumbled across TWIP several weeks ago and gave it a try. My only disappointment was there were not many podcasts. Thought I would try TWIV and to my delight found that TWIV was not a new podcast so there were many hours available for my listening enjoyment. No pressure here but if you can more than once a month would be great.

No disrespect to Dick in my greeting but I feel a certain familiarity towards Dick, so the greating Mr. Racaniello and Dick, as I happened to pick up some prime specimens of what he spent much of his academic life studying. Some ten year back I spent a bit of time bumming around Venezuela and as they say the rest is history. It was fun listening to the two of you cover this topic in episodes three and four.

Thanks for sharing your insight and humor with the rest of us.

orcas island, WA

Jim writes:

Vince and Dick,

An hour-long broadcast about famous tumors includes a discussion of the Tasmanian Devil tumors during which the question is asked whether these communicable tumors can be considered a parasite. What do you guys think? That segment is covered in about the first 15 mins. of the program.

The HeLa cells are also nicely discussed and linked to polio research.... The Radio Lab guys do good work, just like you dudes!

Got ten buckets of great peaches off one of our two peach trees, finally, after ten years of trial-and-error; my lab.... Had to use malathion at the end and regret that, but the stuff sure works well.

Smithfield, VA

Heather writes:

Dear TWiP,

I am a 3rd year medical student here at Columbia. Dr. Despommier actually interviewed me when I applied and had a lot to do with my decision to choose this school, and then he told us about TWiV during a Parasitology small group session last fall and had a lot to do with my listening to this show when I should be studying for exams!

I thought you would get a few seconds of amusement from a medical student's interpretation of one of Dr. Despommier's lectures. Please see the attached PDF with a portion of my notes from the first Parasitology lecture he gave last fall.



Marshall writes:

I just wanted to make sure you saw this:

Apparently a mosquito has been genetically altered to be resistant to malaria. I haven't had a chance to read the PLoS article, but maybe you'll find this interesting.

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 ( 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: It's about 25 mins long.


Just saw reference to biohacking and saw this site, and another, , 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 link 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

TWiP 14 Letters

Sarah writes:

To my favourite scientists,

I am a high school student from Serbia and microbiology is my passion; I plan on going to university and studying it. I wanted to tell you both how much I enjoy the TWIP podcast! I especially enjoyed the one about tapeworms. I urge you to do the show weekly! I can't wait until the next one! Keep up the great work!

Geoffrey writes:

You may have already been alerted to this one:

Flying Vaccinator: a Transgenic Mosquito Delivers a Leishmania Vaccine via Blood Feeding.
Insect Molecular Biology
Vol 19 Issue 3 (June 10)
pp. 391-398

Prasad writes:

Hi Dick and Vincent,

I love your podcasts, TWIP and TWIV. Although I am a virologist and think that viruses are the most amazing 'things', with your podcasts I have come to appreciate the parasitology as well. I think Dick will like to know that I work on Dengue.

My recent pubmed search led me to this article in current biology titled 'Plasmodium falciparum Accompanied the Human Expansion out of Africa' by Tanabe et al. It talks about origins on P. Falciparum. I know that TwiP has moved on to other parasites, but it will be great if you can explain the controversy of malarial origin a little bit more.

In any case, I am over in Singapore currently and if any of you are in this part of the world, drop me a mail. I can show you around.

Thanks for the podcasts. Keep them coming.



Spencer writes:

Hi Vincent and Dickson,

I often see patients with addiction problems. Now one month into TWIP withdrawal, I can sympathize. Please press onward with this fascinating podcast series. I am a cholesterol and lipid specialist and run a testing and referral center in New Jersey where I see patients with complex lipid and metabolic disorders. Are you aware of any crossover from the microbial world in terms of inflammatory influences on the vasculature that can lead to advancing atherosclerosis? For example, we know that an inflammatory marker, C reactive Protein, which has been precipitated from patients with pneumococcal infection may be an independent marker for atherosclerotic risk and additionally may be a target of therapy.



Mitch writes:

I came across this joke online today and thought you guys would appreciate it:

Taenia solium walks into a bar and the bar tender says "we don't serve your kind here" Taenia solium replies "Well, you're not a very good host."


Kieran writes:

I just wanted say thank you for all your time and effort put into the creation of both TWIP and TWIV, they represent the very best in podcasting and show exactly how hugely beneficial they can be.

TWIP is especially fascinating and illuminating and every two weeks is not enough to do justice to the breadth and inters of the subject. It would be brilliant to here something of fungal parasites, espically with the wide range of strange and distincict behavior they exhibit, e.g. Cordyceps unilateralis and the affect it has on its hosts behavior.

Again thank you for the great work, and yours very humbly,


Marc writes:

Thank you for a wonderful podcast series [so far...] !!!

I've got one correction to make (just listened to the tapeworm episodes): it's a megaloblastic anemia, because vitamin b12 is needed for DNA synthesis and NOT for the hemoglobin.

And a question: why the heck are those life cycles sooooo complicated? does any one has an idea how they evolved? maybe dick has some good ideas on that....

I plan buying the parasitic diseases book, but I noticed it's from 2005, and the edition before was from 2000.... so be honest: is there a new edition coming out soon - please tell me if so ;-)

greetings from freiburg in germany

Michael writes:

Can you believe this. There is an organisation trying to save the Guinea I've heard it all.


TWiP 13 Letters

Kevin writes:

I was googling the internet after listening to TWiP 9 where there was a mention of the tongue parasitic isopod. From the looks of this published paper, that is the real deal.

I will never eat sushi again.

Also, for her birthday I got my mom a copy of the book Vincent recommended about Henrietta Lacks, and it was the best gift I've given anyone in years. Thanks! :)

Mitchell writes:

Hello Dr. Despommier,

I am a microbiologist currently working to develop a TB diagnostic device and I must first let you know that I very much love your show. I was somewhat skeptical that I would be as big a fan as I was (am) of TWiV when your first episodes came out, but I really like the distinctly narrative style of your show. The stories and anecdotes are really great and provide a much needed aspect to science communication.

The real reason I am writing, however, is because I get a "Word Spy" email every week about neologisms and your name showed up in the first ever recorded citation of the word "farmscraper". It doesn't say that you coined it, but your name is now forever associated with this. Maybe this is a bigger deal to me than to other people, but I think it's pretty fantastic. Here's the link:

Anyway, I enjoy the show and I also heard and enjoyed your recent interview on Futures in Biotech. You read a lot of emails that say your show should be every week, but I'd like to give my controversial opinion that once or twice a month is perfect. I think it gives you more time to go deeper into the history and the stories, and it allows me to focus on the show. I often don't get to listen to the whole thing at once, and I will often end up with several TWiV episodes piled up. I don't want to feel like your show comes so often that it loses its intensity.

Thanks for the geat podcast. Keep them coming!

Pittsboro, NC

Greg writes:

You've probably seen this but it's an interesting article concerning Toxoplasma and it's possible influence on the personalities of entire nations.

Greg Hampton
Virginia Beach

Jim writes:

Vince and Dick,

The 2 Jul 2010 podcast from AAS Science, at, has a three minute segment (attached) 25 minutes into the podcast that discusses the question, "Do parasites affect intelligence?", but does not make reference to Dr Despommier's comments made in a previous TWIP about the historic impact of hookworms in the Southern US. Does this current work confirm or extend Dr Despommier's hookworm discussion? Listeners can also see the transcript of the podcast and this particular part by going to page eleven of a downloadable PDF file at .

Smithfield, VA

TWiP 12 Letters

Maria writes:

Dear Dr. Dickson Despommier and Dr. Vincent Racaniello

I am a microbiologist. I studied in Colombia and after finishing my bachelor's I moved to New York city in 2007. All my life I have been fascinated about microorganisms. Some weeks ago I found an interesting blog about social media and microbiology, a talk that Dr. Racaniello gave in Scotland not so long ago. Listening to his approaches in the study of viruses and the use of media in his teaching to bring information to his students and other people in different ways got my attention.

I am one of those who think that knowledge is the backbone of success and more important to be able to share this knowledge is the key for a successful society.

After listening to his speech, I found twiv and then I found twiP... wow!!! what amazing podcast!!!! I start listening to TwiP and now I have become addicted to your voices and learning from you two.

The first episode of TwiP Dr. Despommier talked about his beginnings as a parasitologist and you made me remember my professor in college, Dr. CJ Marinkelle. He was an excellent professor from The Netherlands who has taught in Colombia for decades and I had the privilege of being one of his students. He used to tell us stories about parasites in Africa when he was practicing medicine back in the 1940's, the same way as you did in the last episode about sparganosis.

As I told you, I studied microbiology in my country. My desire is to do a PhD and be able to work in research. This idea has been always in my mind, unfortunately I have not been lucky enough to get into the programs that I have applied. However, I am a little stubborn and I keep pursuing this dream. As Dr. Despommier said..." sometimes when one door closes another door may open". In the meantime I have volunteered in Cornell Medical College and in NYU, working with Plasmodium falciparum.

I just want to say thanks for this amazing team that you two have there, and for bringing us a wonderful time every two weeks in TwiP and every week in TwiV.



Don writes:

I was reading my second favorite blog:

Bruce Schneier, which is about security, especially computer-related security, and which I highly recommend.

Today, there is an entry entitled Insect-Based Terrorism, relating the tale of a conference at the University of Florida promoting fears of a terrorist attack based on mosquitoes or some other insect disease vector. As I read this piece, I found myself wishing I had the depth of knowledge you guys can bring to a topic like this. If you have a chance, maybe you could take a look at this and, perhaps dispel a myth or two.

The Twiv podcast is definitely my favorite bloggish information feed, and I listen to it on my long commute just as soon as I can download it.

Twip would be right up there, but I find myself succombing to the ick factor and often delay a few days before listening to it. Somehow viruses don't do it, but I can't listen to Dick talk about worms without feeling them squirming about in my guts. I sure am glad I don't have loads of parasites, but my imagination runs away every time, and for a while I am sure I have whatever icky new parasite Dick is talking about.

I have long been fascinated by biology, and love listening to you. You have inspired me to treat myself to a subscription to Nature as a Christmas present, and while I don't have time to read it all, I am proud that I can manage to read at least a sampling all the way back to
the Letters.

Greg writes:

I heard about your show while listening to Futures In Biotech. After listening to the episode about Malaria, I posted on Twitter that I thought you two were the Abbott and Costello of Parasitism. I can't believe that my new favorite show concerns something I know nothing about and was totally disinterested in until I heard Dickson's story about Frog legs in TWIP #8. Thank you so much for both the information and entertaining style of the show.


Douglas writes:

Hi Guys,

Great work with TWiV and TWiP - best science podcasts out there.

An interesting link you might like is Parasite of the Day. You've probably heard of it already though.


I've been cringing recently whenever you pronounce Edinburgh as "EDIN-BOW-RO". It's "EDIN-BRUH" :D



Etienne writes:

Hello Dick and Vincent,

I love the show and I can't wait for every new release. I find it both informative and entertaining.

One question I have is why there is one type of parasite that seem to be missing from your discussions? Plants have parasite too and can be parasites, but they do not seem to fit in the classification system introduced in the early shows. It's true that they are not important in a disease sense but some of them have significant economical impacts.

A common example of a plant parasite is the mistletoe that germinate and burrow in tree branches to connect to the plant circulatory system.

A more agriculturally relevant example is the striga, a root parasite of many major crops that reduce productivity significantly.

An other popular example is the Rafflesia arnoldii or corps flower the biggest single flower in the world. That entire genus is composed of endoparasite of a genus of tropical vines.

I find parasitic plants a fascinating subject but sadly they seem to be to often forgotten by parasitologist. I hope TWIP will in the future approach the subject.


William writes:

Dear respected colleagues,

Your have heard from me before. I am the private physician who discussed your liberal/progressive political bias. I loved your human interest story of the young woman who died of malaria with the collapsing dominoes ending in cardiac resus and splenic rupture. That is the best way to communicate to young physicians. I never forgot those teachers who told those stories or my own similar experiences.

I trained at LA County General/USC. Much of my experience was with illegal immigrants. All of the drug resistant TB was coming in from Mexico/illegal immigrants in addition to many other illinesses including leprosy. Do you think the present Obama administration approach to illegal immigration (threatening the citizens of Arizona) is in the best health interests of the citizens of Arizona and America? Or did I misread the "terrible situation in Arizona".? I am a strong supporter of immigration - legal. If your children were at risk from drug resistant TB in grade school, might your stance be different?

I used an analogy when teaching HIV. Naive T-cells had to go to thymus U. They had to pass one test and fail another or they were disposed of. You get the idea.

Very respectfully,


Jim writes:

Night soil is used as fertilizer in some countries but not in the US because of health concerns about parasites and disease transmission. Have any countries developed simple methods of curing night soil to eliminate this hazard?

I understand that while urine is part of night soil, it's not considered a health concern as are feces. Is that correct? With all the supplements I take it seems that one of the best fertilizers for my garden may be my own urine. It would sure help offset the pharmaceutical cost and be a great recycling concept. On the other hand dog pee kills grass, so must any urine be aged or cured...? Does using urine sound reasonable?


TWiP 11 letters

Sophie writes:

Hi Dick and Vincent,

I still love both of your podcasts and was very pleased when Dick referred to Claudius as I love the books about him. This malaria themed podcast made me realize that the historical part of parasitism is so interesting (I'm talking about the really old stuff), and although it is very difficult to say much about this, I would really like to know more about parasitology and their influence on history.

- Sophie

Erin writes:

Dear Vincent and Dick,

I have been fervently enjoying your podcasts since I learned about them a few months ago from Rich Condit himself. I am a grad student at University of Florida and I am on a training grant that he is involved with. I have been trying my best to catch up with your TWIV episodes, and I was delighted when you started TWIP. I study a protozoan parasite called Babesia bovis, which I bet Dick is aware of (believe me, most people are not).

I just listened to the TWIV episode in which Dr. Condit tells you about our seminar program where students get to present the speakers' papers to them after the talk. Wouldn't you know, I am one of the lucky students who gets to present to you! Of course I did not realize this at the time I was assigned to you - I was just annoyed that most of the speakers were virologists (not a single parasitologist, how surprising...!) and terrified because I know so little about virology. Presently I feel slightly better about the virology aspect after listening to so many of your informative and entertaining podcasts. However, you have become somewhat of a celebrity to me but don't yet know I exist, which I was beginning to feel a little weird about. Hence, this email.

I am very excited to meet you and I think you should bring Dick along. I will take him fishing in my canoe!

Also, I have a suggestion for a podcast topic, which could actually be covered on either TWIV or TWIP. The particular aspect of Babesia bovis that I study is its ability to undergo rapid antigenic variation, which I'm sure you know is not unique to this organism. I think people would be interested to hear about antigenic variation and how it allows pathogens to evade the host immune response. Also, you could talk about antigenic shift and drift, and the differences between those three events. Sorry if you've already covered this topic - like I said, I haven't quite caught up yet.

Like Dr. Condit, I enjoy your podcasts most while on my daily bicycle commute. I truly appreciate the opportunity you've given me to learn something during this otherwise uneventful part of my day. My other favorite podcast is "This American Life" - if you haven't heard it, please give it a listen. In fact there is an episode (no. 404) called "Behind Enemy Lines" that has two stories about parasites, including one about a man who purposefully acquires hookworm (by stomping around in tropical third-world country latrines) to ease his allergies and asthma.

Sorry for all the rambling, thanks again, and I very much look forward to meeting you.



p.s. One of my cats is chronically infected with tapeworms despite my best efforts to eradicate them. I find lots of little proglottids in her favorite sleeping spots, and sometimes I find 2-4 inch long, flat, crusty worm segments that look like rice noodles. I'd be happy to save one for you!

anonymous writes:

I am a little behind on both TWIV and TWIP, but as I was listing to the trichinella, while collating appendices,  I had a thought.  I have read/heard over the years that the lack of parasites in our society is related to the high incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases.

I will fully admit this may be a stupid question..


When looking into making vaccines for parasites (as Dick mentioned has been done), has it ever been considered as a way to stimulate the immune response (without causing any disease) to help prevent/treat allergies and autoimmune diseases?  Just thought it was an interesting idea.

anonymous writes:

I listen to at least a dozen podcasts regularly and sometimes I don't have time for every episode, but TWIP and TWIV are two that I never skip.  I'm always entertained and always learn something.  It's  not at all related to my present occupation, (electrical engineer working on rockets), but maybe that's why it's especially interesting because it's so different.

1) Question:  I'd be interested if you could cover diseases that we can get from our pets as I have several dogs and a couple of little kids.  I wonder what kinds of scary parasites you can describe that can help keep me up at night worrying.  At least we are in Arizona so we don't have many fleas or ticks around ( I guess it gets too hot?)

2) Tip: Check out this website and the cool stuffed bugs, germs, viruses etc.  Stuffed bears are entirely over represented in the stuffed toy world.

PS.  I need TWIP to be more frequent.  Please.  Thanks for all the time you guys put in to this.  It's very much appreciated.

PPS.  If you ever change your tag line at the end it could be " Another TWIP... is in your brain"<

Duncan writes:


I thought this news item might interest you:

"Health authorities are warning of the dangers of eating slugs as a Sydney man battles a rare form of meningitis.

The 21-year-old caught rat lungworm disease after he ate a slug as a dare some time ago.

He is now in a critical condition in hospital.

The disease is caused by a parasitic worm that is carried by slugs and snails.

In some instances, the worm can cause fatal swelling of the brain and spinal chord.

Doctor Jeremy McAnulty from New South Wales Health says these cases are rare and most people can recover.

"It goes away by itself because the body's immune system will eventually get rid of it," he said.

The disease can also be caught from raw vegetables or fruit which have not been washed properly."

Cheers, Duncan


Vincent writes:


I am sure someone has sent in this article, but I thought I would bring it to your attention if not.

Keep up the wonderfully good work on both podcasts!


Michael writes:

Man eat a raw slug and gets the rat lungworm

Michael writes:

Since we can't get enough of TWIP, I have started a facebook group on Parasites and Parasitology. Feel free to cross post on it and spread the word.  I have linked this website to the group and perhaps you would do the same.

Kind regards

Dr. Michael

John writes:

I love both TWIP and TWIV, but I need more frequent TWIP podcasts!!  Too much waiting gives me digestional problems.  So, due to my failing health, I need more frequent TWIP productions (much more, if possible).  Of course I don't have a Doctor's note, but I am working to get into the Microbiology Ph.D. program at UF and I can't handle the extra stress ;)  Hook us up, guys, we need our "fix."

Thank you for the awesome shows

Nora writes:

Hello Drs. Racaniello and Despommier,

I am an avid listener to TWiV and just recently am catching up on TWiP.  I work in the Biotech field, formerly in clinical viral production and now antibody production.  I specialize in large-ish cell based production I suppose.  well virology will always be close to my heart.


Anyway, I have a couple of comments for TWiP, I have only listened to the first couple of episodes so hopefully no other listeners have beat me to this.

On the first podcast you said that there are no parasites larger than insects.  I believe I have thought up and exception.  The cuckoo bird would be a parasite.  Wikipedia lists it as a "brood parasite".  I would love to be the first listener to have though of this as you have a very intelligent listenership! :)

In the second podcast you discussed Ivermectin, just an interesting side note, this is also used extensively for horses.  It is part of the "wormer rotation" used against round worms, bots, etc.  (my bachelors degree is in Equine science).

I wonder if you wouldnt do an episode on Tuberculous.  I find this disease very interesting and it is making a world wide comeback.

Thank you, keep up the great work,


TWiP 10 letters

Beki writes:
I am a second year graduate student, and the lab that I joined works on Leishmania and Trypanosomes. I originally discovered TWiP via TWiV (where my true interests are - but that is a long story; Matt Frieman came and gave a seminar and gave a small plug for TWiV).  I am really excited to have the opportunity to listen to highly informed people talk about parasitism.  I request more frequent episodes - I will start preparing for my qualification exams soon and I am sure that this podcast will be invaluable - especially if you get to Leishmania soon (hint,hint).

I would also like to say that listening to a podcast is like having a viral/parasitic infection - usually there are only a few people that show clinical symptoms (i.e. send an email or post a comment), but there are usually many more who have asymptomatic infections (i.e. just listen).  So in the end, there are many people who would like more episodes, but only a small percentage will actually contact you to request more.  I am very grateful for the time you both take to prepare and do this podcast - keep them coming!

Bernhard writes:
Dear TWiVers and TWiPers, Last time I just suggested a Pick of the Week, but now I'm ready to pose a question: In a science news compilation, I recently learned about the work by Shigeto Yoshida et al. of Jichi Medical University (supposedly reported recently in 'Insect Mulecular Biology') on genetically engineering mosquitos to secrete an antigen from Leishmaniosis in their saliva. The idea being that being bitten by such a mosquito would trigger antibodies against the protozoans. The regulatory issues with such an approach are, however, quite severe since you cannot control who 'gets the shot'. However, I've since heard a podcast on Australian wildlife being threatened by picking up diseases from farm animals and species introduced by the Europeans like rabies. Would it be possible to use the above approach to immunize wildlife, say, using a mosquito that's specific to the wild animal and doesn't bite humans? Would the supposed specificity help with the regulatory issues and provide a 'proof-of-concept' for the approach?

Just an idea.

Hope you can keep TWiV and TWiP going for a long time!


Ryan writes:
I love the podcast!  I am a grad student in microbiology and this podcast along with TWiV is a great part of my week.  I study bacteria so we need a TWiB too! Thanks again

Ashlee writes:
Dear Dr. Despommier, My name is Ashlee and I am a graduate student at CUMC and an enthusiastic fan of both TWIP and TWIV. Recently, I was listening to the podcast "This Amercan Life" episode 404 entitled "Enemy Camp" which features a segment called "As the Worm Turns". This brief story was about a man who believes that hook-worms have cured him of his allergies and asthma by acting as immune system modulators in an example of what  has been coined the 'hygiene hypothesis' for immune system dysfunction. The man  subsequently went on to sell his hookworms to other individuals  under the guise that they are a 'cure-all' for autoimmune disorders until he was threatened with arrest and fled the country.

Considering that 'This Amercian Life' has such a large audience, I'd imagine that this story has generated a lot of interest in the 'hygiene hypothesis' among the general public and would make a great topic for an upcoming TWIP episode.  Having had an interest in autoimmune disorders and the hygiene hypothesis in particular for years, I think it would be great to hear your take on this as an expert in the field of parasitology.

Sincerely, Ashlee

TWiP 9 letters

James writes:

One of the other science based podcasts I love listening to is an actual radio show in NZ called Our Changing World. This week the final story was on Hookworms and some researchers studying it, looking for a vaccine, and seeing if they could take out the anti inflammatory ability of the Hookworm and turn it into a drug or treatment without the downside of having to be infected by the worm itself. I thought you guys and the listeners would enjoy it and its a short 22 minutes.

You can find a link to the segment here

Or if it has fallen off the front page here are links to the mp3 and ogg versions of it:

And before I forget, insert platitudes on how awesome TWiP is and how it needs to become a daily show here. ;)

Kind regards,
New Zealand

Peter writes:

One of your emails mentioned larval stage parasites. If you consider placental mammal gestation, I think the embryo and developing offspring in utero fulfils many of the criteria of a parasite. It basically 'plugs-in' and takes everything it needs from the host (mother) until it reaches the next stage.

An intelligent egglaying (oh, say martian...) species may well view this as a hideous form of parasitism.

Nick writes:

First off I when I hear your ending song and thought it sounded like Ronald jenkes and just saw it was, I like his stuff.

So I heard on this American life podcast last week a story about a guy who heard about hook worms having an effect on wether a person has asthma or alergies. So he went to Africa and walked around in the poop fields and got the hook worm. When he gets home his alergies are gone. What do you think about that? I have alergies to cats, should I go get some worms?  This was also first on a podcast of wnyc's radiolab which I highly recommend.

Jim writes:

Tapeworm brain infection 'serious health concern'

Tapeworm infections of the brain, which can cause epileptic seizures, appear to be increasing in Mexico and bordering southwestern states, Loyola University Health System researchers report.

Brian writes:

I heard that every vertebrate has it's own tapeworm, but what is the human tapeworm?  In other words, if a tiger eats a human, what tapeworm does the tiger get?


P.S.  Now I want to find some fake gravid proglotids and leave them in my roommates bed.

Gopal writes:

Saw this piece in The New York Times and remembered Dick talking about the life cycle of the pig tapeworm. -- Gopal Raj, a science journalist in India and a regular listener of both TWiP and TWiV 

Global Update:  Kenya: Pig Farmers Are Focus of Effort to Stop Spread of Parasite That Causes Epilepsy
A new program teaches farmers to tether or confine their pigs to keep them away from human waste.

Arsen writes:

Hey. You talking about fish tapeworm reminded me of another interesting fish parasite:

This fellow eats fish tongue and replaces it.

Keep up the good work


Sky writes:

Just listened to the last episode "TWiP 7: Tapeworms are fantastic!", and you know what?

You both are fantastic almost like the Tapeworms!

thank you : )


Brent writes:

I love the podcast!!! You've been talking about tapeworms. Can you talk more about the treatment for tapeworms? How does the treatment work? Does it kill the tapeworm or just force it out of the body? Are there any issues or side effects with the treatment?


Michael writes:

Hey Guys
I'm a medieval history who became fascinated with parasites from dealing on the plague.   From there I developed a course on plagues and people through history, which covered both parasitic and viral plagues which have wiped out large portions of humanity throughout history and the effect.   I have felt in love with both TWIP and TWIV.   Thanks for taking the time to these school, and has had been, more episodes.     I have finally gotten a copy of Dick's most recent edition of the book and it is my bedtime reading.
Thanks again

Kaja writes:
Dear Twip,
I've been following you from twiv and although I'm more of a virologist I have to say twip really is amazing. I enjoy Dickson's way of narrating these amazing life cycles of parasites. It really is an exciting subject. I even looked up study programs of parasitology at our university, as you pointed out, it's quite similar to virology on big scale. My question for Dick is, how does the life cycle of a parasite even occur? Did the tapeworm exist in some form before it became a parasite or was it just a parasite in one organism before it evolved to transform and change hosts in different stages of life? Did the evolution somehow make an opportunity for it's life cycle in dog-sheep-dog? Surely dogs weren't always around sheep to catch the worm and thus giving it a chance to evolve in this sophisticated life cycle with so many different forms of the worm. I hope you understood the question and maybe in one show can explain the evolution of parasites. This podcast really is amazing to learn from and I wish you would make it more often. I really appreciate all you work with twiv and twip, it's a pleasure to be taught by you. Keep on the good work!
Greetings from Slovenia,

TWiP 8 letters

Christina writes:

Dear Vincent and Dick Just a quick message to say thank you for this informative and fun podcast series, I have enjoyed all three episodes and hope to listen to many more. Jusy the right thing for a former leishmaniac, now teache

Shawn writes:

Hi I just found your podcast and am enjoying it immensely I just have one nagging question about the first episode where it was said there was no parasites more complex than insects. I wondering about lampray witch i find kind of horrifying and then I also was thinking of vampire bats.

Thank for the podcast and your time.

Michael writes:

Hey guys,

I love the show, but am disappointed that it is only once a month! Please do at least twice a month. (I'm sure we'll be begging for every week then)

I am a pre-med student and love to learn from TWiV and TWiP.

I would also love if you would talk some more about how the body will respond to some of these parasites, in regards with the various humoral responses. (How will the parasites you are talking about show up in the blood chemistry)

Thanks for your time.

Destanie writes:

Hi I recently started listing to twiv a few weeks ago, through which I found twip. I must say I didn't think that parasites could be so interesting! I love what you guys are doing and the only thing I would change is the frequency! I'd love to hear more.

Jessie writes:

Hi Dr. Racaniello and Dr. Despommier, I was wondering if you could go over information about tapeworms.  Could you also discuss the myths vs. facts of tapeworms.  For example, can tapeworms help you lose weight?

I enjoy listening to your show and hope it continues for a very long time.

Mike writes:

I’m a garbage truck mechanic who is hoping to teach High School biology upon retirement. I received a master’s degree in Chemical and Life Sciences from UOM College Park last year and wrote my thesis on the nitrogen cycle in wastewater treatment.

TWIV and TWIP are my favorite podcasts. Your knowledge, experience and Socratic teaching style make listening and learning a joy. I’m definitely in the camp that would like to hear a new episode twice per month. The world (borrowing a line from Dr. Mark Crislip) needs more TWIP. It would also be wonderful if you could entice a bacteriologist to join your crew and add TWIB to the line-up. I am cc’ing this email to my 18 year-old granddaughter who plans to study microbiology at UC Davis. She is interested in leprosy and thinks rifampicin can be an effective drug for treatment if modified to reduce its hepatotoxicity. I’ve told her that MRSA, AIDS or malaria research would be better bets for grant writing.

Before I get to my question, I’d like to mention the two most startling bits of information Dr. Despommier related in TWIP 5, paraphrasing: 1) Some scientists believe that human aging genes are an aberration. 2) Type 1 diabetes may be caused by an over zealous immune system response to a virus with an antigenic appearance similar to that of pancreatic islet cells. I know these were intended as tangential remarks, but they piqued my curiosity. Perhaps you can revisit the concepts in the future.

TWIP 5 question: In the Trichinella nurse cell illustration on your webpage (see below) should one of the venules have been identified as an arteriole?  The Wikipedia entry (apologies, I didn’t look for a primary source) for venule shows blood flow as artery to arteriole to capillaries to venule to vein. Wikipedia’s entry for sinusoid has no illustration, but equates capillaries with sinusoids, noting the latter’s discontinuous endothelial cells to allow protein entry and exit from the bloodstream. If your illustration is correct, does it mean that larvae prefer venous blood exclusively because Trichinella is an obligate anerobe? And, if that is the case, how is a pressure differential maintained to move blood through the sinusoids?

Thank you and more power to TWIP!

Jeff writes:

You have a great set of shows going. I’ve been listening to both TwiV and TWiPa (I think TWiP is reserved for This Week in Photography, isn’t it?) I’m a lab tech at the CDC working on anaerobic bacteria (specifically C. difficile) and while I’m somewhat familiar with the workings of viruses (Cell Bio degree) I think the workings of parasites are fascinating.  I’m only a bit familiar with them and their lifecycles are amazingly complicated.  Also, I enjoy the random tangents with interesting anecdotes from science history. Keep ‘em coming.  And I’d love to hear more TWiPa  The current schedule is not enough.

You’ll have to find somebody who specializes in bacteria so you can cover the three major sources on infection.  There’s lot’s to talk about in the bacterial world.

Last: I think you said the Jungle was written by Sinclair Lewis in one episode?  It was Upton Sinclair.

Jim writes:

Thanks again, gentlemen, for an excellent podcast.

You know I can't keep up with all this. You keep adding links to other podcasts and books and topics that need to be studied and my garden is starting to grow, and I now have a used text on biochemistry, one on microbiology and the 2-vol virology set you so kindly sent, Vince.

I finally just gave up on your Virology Lecture 10 (transference or translation); watched it, but just too many new terms, like elongation, that represent a myriad of microcosms of knowledge. Still it's fascinating to hear and watch, and some of it does soak in.

Your asides, like the venules and sinusoids in this TWIP, oftentimes have more meaning and value to me than the more technical information. It's like little bits of critical information that click into place, the Ah-hah wow! type moments.

Dick, the details of your career is so much more enlightening as representing what the majority of science is about than the rare example of a Nobel Prize winner's work. You provide that huge base of knowledge built one jigsaw piece at a time that's needed that leads to breakthroughs. God bless you for your patience and perseverance.

Thanks, too, for the rundown concerning sushi. I've seen many mentions of flash-freezing fish for sushi to insure product quality, but no one wants to point out freezing kills parasites, too. I'm also pleased to hear that marine parasites are not zoonotic -- is this correct or an over simplifciation?  It would explain why we don't drop dead after falling in the ocean, considering the quantity of microorganisms there.

I need to ask, now, if there isn't a growing need to make a list of all the research projects and topics in need of further discussion that you two, and your guests, have noted in TWIP and TWIV. Do you have notes about each one of these? I'm still working on transcriptions and eventually one should be able to consolidate all of those, so searches can be made, but that may not help much.

I listened twice to this TWIP and TWIV 72 (lagging behind on those, it seems).  What a powerhouse, you guys.

Thanks, again.

Jesse writes:

Hello Drs. Vincent and Dickson!

I am still enjoying this podcast ("so far"), and discovering that multicellular parasites are even more fascinating than I had thought! I had a comment about something that was mentioned in episode 6 though:

When I took a medical parasitology class in college, the professor said that when the pork tapeworm is living in a person, it can sometimes get so long that it loops around up into the stomach, where it releases eggs which then hatch and reinfect that person as juveniles, causing cysticercosis and such serious problems. Is this incorrect? I know Dr. Despommier mentioned that it might not happen because the immune system would prevent reinfection. If it IS correct though, then maybe on that House episode you mentioned, the woman had an adult Taenia solium growing in her gut from the ham, which laid eggs in her stomach, resulting in the neurocysticercosis. Is it possible?

Thanks for the podcast!

Jesse writes:

I know this has nothing to do with viruses or parasites. I thought it was interesting to hear Dr. Despommier explain what vertical farming is along with the benefits.

CNN : Eco Solutions : Vertical farming

Paul writes:

Dear Drs

I am a retired chemist who is not that excited about chemistry any more but am fascinated by virus and other human diseases. I am a devoted listener and would like more TWIP, I find audio learning much more effective than reading, keep up the good work. My daughter works in biotech and also listens to your podcasts so we have interesting things to talk about besides grand children. We feel that diseases will play an increasingly important role in the future of mankind as the planet becomes more crowded and climate change puts more stress on human populations, understanding these things will help us prepare our progeny for an uncertain future. Thanks for helping with my education.


Could the pork tape worm be a potential for bioterrorists?

Potential scenario :  Set up a pig farm in Mexico, infect pigs with tape worm, harvest the eggs from the pig manure, contaminate fresh produce ( such as lettuce) grown in Mexico bound for the US with the eggs and let nature take its course. It seems to me that this would be hard to detect because there would be no acute infectious out break and could go on for months with lettuce being shipped all over the US. Would this be a significant public health problem?

I often travel to Mexico and would like to be able to protect myself from tape worm infections, I got the idea from this podcast there is no defense if food gets contaminated after cooking. Did I get this right? Is there any spice, like chile peppers, that might prevent the eggs from hatching?

Anxiously awaiting your reply.

Lindsay writes:

Hey guys!

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Michigan, where I study infectious disease epidemiology and disease ecology. My primary interests lie in the ecological factors that give rise to certain parasitic and environmental infections, and also the evolutionary ecology of pathogen systems. I have been learning a bit about the evolutionary ecology of parasites and think that that topic would make for a really interesting conversation.

This coming summer, I will be working on a project involving malaria transmission in a sub-Saharan Africa urban center. Because malaria and other invertebrate-borne parasitic infections are such big deals in the developing world, I hereby request some casually educational back and forth rapport on those topics.

I was sure glad to hear a new episode - I was worried that the project had been given up.

Keep up the good work.

Michael writes:

Hi Vincent and Dickson,

Thought you might want to share a link to the CDC concerning the basics of common parasitic invaders if you haven't already done so.

Keep up the great work with TWIP.


Gary writes:

First, I just want to thank you for a great podcast. I find it both educational and entertaining.

I was wondering if either of you have read about a treatment, developed at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, that uses gold nanoparticles that attach to toxoplasmid-hunting antibodies. The gold carrying-antibodies then spread through the circulatory system, affixing themselves to parasites in the blood. Once the gold particles are well distributed and widely attached to the parasite, a laser heats up the gold, incinerating the parasites. According to the researchers, the laser could be tuned to the so-called "tissue window", a wavelength of light to which the human body appears transparent. That way, the laser can pass harmlessly through the skin, burning up the parasites along the way.

I came upon the article "Gold nanoparticles take out brain parasite" in Cosmos Magazine and found it very interesting and I would like to hear both of yours comments on the technic in a future eposode of TWIP.

Here is the link to the article:

Thanks again, I look forward to your next podcast.

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