Amazing animals part 2 -Mind control and biological warfare- the life of a parasitic wasp.

Amazing animals-part 2

Mind control and biological warfare- the life of a parasitic wasp!

Imagine someone approaches you in the street saying that they’re trying for a baby, slightly weird, I mean you don’t even know this person, but then contemplate them injecting their eggs into you and turning you into a mindless host for their baby to develop in, pretty messed up right? This is a typical day in the life of a reproducing dinocampus coccinelea, the parasitic wasp that injects its eggs into another insect host such as a ladybird. Now obviously nobody wants a bunch of wasps to be growing in them until one day when they burst out in what looks like a scene out of the Ridley Scott’s Alien, so naturally the ladybird would put up a fight and destroy this foreign body, but that’s where the wasp gets really clever: the egg that the wasp injects is carrying a hybrid virus the wasp uses in a kind of biological warfare to disable the hosts immune response to stop it destroying the egg. This virus is believed to infect brain cells, not only preventing an immune response but also it is thought it turns the host into a ‘protector’ for the egg, in a strange act of mind control. The egg then hatches and leaves the host, like an angry ex-girlfriend, with a large hole to fill. There obviously wasn’t enough chemistry between them, or in this case biology.

  2. Julien Varaldi- Viruses as the raw material for eukaryote evolution: lessons from the parasitic wasp. Microbiology TODAY 42:1 February 2015

Mucophagy: A medical practice of the future?

Before I begin this article I must make a confession: As a child I practiced Mucophagy[2], or to me and you, I was an avid nose-picker-bogey-eater kind of child. In my defence according to a BBC investigation 99%of younger children frequently delve into their nasal passage to retrieve their little friends. However, is this “grotesque” habit something the parents of today should embrace with wide arms?

Despite a taboo subject amongst society and often condemned in most cultures[2], healthcare professionals around the world are discussing the beneficial properties of the art of Mucophagy. (Yes, I would argue that there is a certain skill in this unique kind of practice thus making it an art.) The body’s first line of defence comprising of the skin, tears and mucus is vital in forming a physical barrier against the pathogens that may cause us harm. In fact a study of  “the body’s natural defences function to protect the oral cavity” [1] published in the journal of Applied  and Environmental Microbiology, suggest that the glycoproteins found in salivary mucins protect the teeth from the bacteria Streptococcus mutans that causes cavities.

The presence of the  Streptococcus mutans [3] bacteria result in the development of tooth decay by means of  metabolising the sucrose found on the teeth to lactic acid, with the help of the enzyme glucansucrase. This reaction leads to acidic conditions within the mouth that is the source for the deterioration of the tooth enamel. Furthermore the sucrose on the surface of the teeth allow the bacteria to produce a dextran-based polysacchride; this gives the ability for the bacteria to cohere to the surface of the tooth in a mesh-like formation known as a biofilm.

Researchers Ribbeck and Frenkel isolated MUC5B (a type of mucin, not a governmental spy agency) and grew with the  S. mutans  bacteria over a tooth model. To ensure their results were down to the MUC5B they used a control group without the mucin; the pair found that the bacteria had not binded to the tooth model with the mucin-filled wells. The pair concluded that the MUC5B encases the S. mutans in a “3-D spider’s web” trapping the acids they secrete.[4]

Biological engineers are now constructing synthetic mucins to further investigate their properties. What would you reply if your dentist told you to eat your own bodily fluid to prevent cavities? Or perhaps in 20 years down the line your local Tesco or Asda will no longer stock Colgate but tubes of synthetic mucas.

It doesn’t stop there. Mucins have been argued to be a better alternative to antibiotics. As they don’t kill bacteria, but merely prevent the damage bacteria cause, they seem a much safer substitute as they wont kill the “helpful bacteria’”. The medical use of mucins has the future prosperity of avoiding dangerous strains from taking place, MRSA for example. As assistant professor Katharina Ribbeck said; it is just as important to “not necessarily resolve infection but to stabilise or prevent infection.” [4] Bacitracin or bogeys? Which would you decide to treat an ear infection?

Those with Bogyphobia (the fear of bogeys or the bogeyman)[5], such as Dr William Schaffner might argue that “we as humans ingest our nasal mucus all the time- day and night”. As often the wet mucus at the internal end of the nasal passage can be passed into our throats via cilia [6],thus there would be no reason to manually search for those golden nuggets of snot with a finger. However Dr. Joseph Mercola notes that society’s desire for cleanliness weakens our body’s immune systems due to little exposure to pathogens[6] – what is known as the “Hygiene Hypothesis”[7], first proposed in 1989 by Professor David Strachan. These pathogens are often caught in the dried mucus, consequently eating them would provide children with the primary immune response of lymphatic production; That again ,when exposed, would result in a much quicker secondary response.

As noted by Sidney Tarachow in his report –  in the Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 1966[8] –  on Coprophagia (the compulsive eating of bodily secretions) he said; “persons do eat nasal debris, and find it tasty, too!” In addition studies propose the addictive nature of Mucophagy[2] is due to the sweet taste, leading to you doing it again and again, thus giving yourself increased exposure to bacteria.

Although there is not nearly enough evidence into the immunological properties of mucins, there is sufficient data in its dental hygiene benefits. While I’m not suggesting you all turn to Rhinotillexomania [9](compulsive nose picking) to defend yourself against a respiratory infection. I propose keeping an open mind to the weird and wacky medical practices to come in the future, can in no way harm you. Nonetheless, if I have swayed you to feasting on your own delicacies for the health benefits, bon appétit!

P.S I do not eat my own bogeys anymore!

  1. Frenkle E.S and Ribbeck K (2015) “Salivary mucins protect surfaces from colonization by cariogenic bacteria.” – journal of Applied  and Environmental Microbiology. [ONLINE] Available at:
  2. Wikipedia “Mucophagy ” [ONLINE] Available at:
  3. Wikipedia “Streptococcus mutans” [ONLINE] Available at:
  4. Pandika M (2015) “The Goo That’s Good for Teeth” [ONLINE] Available at:
  5. Bogyphobia” [ONLINE] Available at: or
  6. Smallwood k (2014) “IS EATING YOUR BOOGERS GOOD FOR YOU?”  [ONLINE] Available at:
  7. NHS (2013) “Are we too clean for our own good?” [ONLINE] Available at:
  8. Akhtar S (2009) “Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis” 58-59 [ONLINE] Available at:
  9. Wikipedia Rhinotillexomania” [ONLINE] Available at:

Amazing Animals part 1- The key to immortality- life as a jellyfish


The key to immortality- life as a jellyfish

Since its dawn mankind has searched for the key to immortality but it seems life cannot go on forever, until now. Meet the Turritopsis dohrnii an immortal species of jellyfish. They are about the size of a human’s little finger nail and were discovered in the 1800s but it was not until the 1990s that their unique ability was discovered. Their life starts as a colony of polyps on the seafloor; the jellyfish then buds off this colony and begins it life. The Turritopsis dohrni is unique because when it is exposed to physical harm, be it starvation or physical damage it reverts back to this polyp stage; cells in effect make themselves younger and can re-specialise, changing their function from, for example, a muscle cell to a nerve cell or even a gamete. It is the only known animal that can revert to a sexually immature, colonial stage after reaching maturity. The polyp can then reform into a jellyfish and the cycle is complete. The new jellyfish is genetically identical and is basically reborn, ‘immortality’ is used loosely as it is not entirely correct but it’s far from the mortality you or I will experience. This has lead to swarms of identical jellyfish springing up all over the globe, some in Spain and others in Asia but all genetically identical, often carried by ships to other parts of the globe. Despite this genetic uniformity, where the jellyfish are found seems to dictate the number of tentacles they have ranging from 8 to 24 depending on location. Although it is unlikely to see research into these immortal jellyfish finding its way into the latest Nivea anti-aging cream the jellyfish’s unique ability may find another way to benefit us. During the formation of polyps when in danger the jellyfish’s cells change nature, seeming to re-specialise, switching on previously inactive genes and switching off one that are no longer needed, if this unique system could be integrated into the rapidly mutating cells of a cancer patient millions of lives could be saved, preventing the rapid division or putting them to use to grow new organs or tissue for transplants and graphs. Not bad for brain-lacking, gelatinous mass that’s mouth doubles up as its anus, right?

1. “Immortal” Jellyfish Swarm World’s Oceans -Ker Than “National Geographic News” – January 29, 2009

2. “Turritopsis dohrnii” Wikepedia

3.Turritopsis Dohrnii – Is It Really Immortal? – Monday, 15 September 2014