trichuris trichiura

Trichuris comes from the Greek tricho, meaning hair and oura, meaning tail. Trichuris trichiura (T. trichiura)common name, whipworm. I gather the name refers to the shape of its hair-like anterior.

My quick note:
Trichuris trichiura (T. trichiura), aka, whipworm.
Trichuriasis, aka, whipworm infection aka a neglected tropical disease.

I particularly enjoy drawing the linear, yet sinuous T. trichiura. ↓

The whipworm has a thicker rear end (posterior) and thinner front end (anterior).  Female is larger (35-50mm) than  male (30-45mm).

I’ve introduced you to Dr. María Adelaida Duque, who enjoys her work with the biological pathogen. The focus of my current research is on understanding the interactions between the parasitic nematode Trichuris trichiura and the intestinal epithelia, their host cells. T. trichiura is an animal from the phylum nematoda. Maria reminds me, we can get infected with this parasite when we ingest eggs present in contaminated food or water.

My rendition of whipworms in the intestine.

Two questions direct Maria’s current work:
How does the larvae reach the bottom of the crypt and invade the epithelia?
What are the interactions between larvae and cells promoting this process?

When the larva is liberated, it infects the bottom of the crypts of the intestinal epithelia and creates tunnels inside them: it is a multi-intracellular parasite! One L1 larva (100um) infects about 40-50 cells in one tunnel.

In the tunnels, the larva moults 4 times, growing and shedding their cuticle with each moult, until they become adult worms, either female and male (about 3-5cm), which mate and produce eggs that are liberated in the faeces, thus completing the life cycle.

Unembryonated whipworm eggs

cross section- cecum inflamed with worms

Eggs hatch in the cecum/proximal colon and larvae immediately infect the cells of the epithelium in there.

My questions:
Do they move through any other organs in the body before heading back to the lumen?
How do they make there way and know where to land? What directs them? Is it chemistry? temperature? (I think this might be Maria’s question too.)

Cross section of cecum based on Maria’s photo. I wished I’d worked larger.

About the art: I especially like the active mark-making this cross section ↑ of the cecum allows.

You are looking at contents in the area where the large intestine begin. The center space is called the lumen (Latin for light). It appears like empty space but it is not. Use your imagination…the lumen holds/transports all sort of interesting things. (Is this chyme?)

Close up.Can you see both whipworms and eggs (in the light)?

My notes and stuff that goes on in my head as I paint:
Intra-multicellular parasite (influences black background and palette), you live and reproduce in/and/or outside of host cells. You produce and liberate 5000 eggs per day (yikes!) into the lumen of your host’s gut which eventually exit and drop into a new environment (soil). With support of warmth, moisture and week’s time, your eggs embryonate.
Ingestion of your now developing eggs leads to infection/s as they enter a new gut where a new generation of you burrow in fresh gut lining, molt x4, mature and if allowed, repeat the cycle of the parasites that came before them and you.
(I know this is a long run-on sentenced paragraph. Like I said… it’s the way my brain works when I paint.)

Soil-transmitted helminths (T. trichiura)
uninvited guest
you cause disease (Trichuriasis).

Is there is treatment for this worm infection? Yes, Maria says, but it is not efficient and often we cannot eradicate the infection. That is why we need new drugs and to find a vaccine.

Continued success in your research and public engagement work  → Dr. María Adelaida Duque.


4 thoughts on “trichuris trichiura

  1. Monica, really loving your art on my favourite worm! Here some answers to your questions:

    1) Do they move through any other organs in the body before heading back to the lumen?
    No. When we ingest the eggs they travel through the gastro-intestinal track and when reaching the cecum/proximal colon they hatch in a process dependent on the microbiome of this organ. Upon hatching, larvae is liberated and infects the gut lining (intestinal epithelia of the cecum/proximal colon). Once inside larvae grows and moults in the same organ.

    2) How do they make there way and know where to land? What directs them? Is it chemistry? temperature? (I think this might be Maria’s question too.)
    Really good question! This is what we are trying to figure out with my research :). Definitely the microbiome is key for hatching, we believe that the mucus that covers the gut lining may have a role in directing the larvae towards the epithelial cells at the bottom of the crytps.

    Happy to answer any other questions!



  2. These are so beautiful – they make me think a little of the work of Klimt. I find it interesting at what point something is perceived as abstract or not. I suppose the interpretation is quite subjective & depends on the context really. You make something very beautiful from that which is unpleasant for us (the impact of disease) and yet from a purely objective point of view there is no difference between that & something which is totally harmless. Not sure if I am explaining myself too well here! Anyway, I like the strong & yet delicate patterns you see. The eggs conjure up pebbles for me, a question of scale & personal experience maybe. Or just the organic shapes to be found across the board in nature?


  3. I was in Vienna some time back and saw an exhibition of Klimt’s work that takes one from his teenage years to the more familiar later work. I sat in the gallery for a long time and realize more and more how much that experience influences me still.
    You explain yourself perfectly.
    And yes, I see how the eggs resembles stones, especially in the rounder format.
    I am also very much impressed by the work of Contemporary Aboriginal Women Artists, which I feel influences me in this particular work.
    Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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