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.


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i draw beautiful whipworms (note to self – these are parasites)

What a nice surprise to hear from María Adelaida. I’m pleased to learn she keeps an eye on my work as she notes my recent activity on microorganisms.

I know María from years back (2008-09). She is a biologist originally from Colombia, she’s in the valley working for the Mayo Clinic when I meet her at a friends party. She attends one of my art openings before moving to Germany to continue her education.

These days she lives in the UK and works at the Sanger Institute. Her current research is intestinal parasitic worms that cause neglected tropical diseases with a huge impact on children.

She has an idea for collaboration that includes a public engagement project.  Does she know how often I think about opportunity to engage with the public? It’s on my mind a lot especially after my summer artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Maria Adelaida’s research is the Whipworm and Trichuriasis.

We talk about art as a form of communication. She talks about her work reaching a new audience. I enjoy the idea of my work reaching a different audience as well. She speaks STEM, I bring the A in and speak STEAM.

I’m intrigued. Can you send photos of these whipworms?

She sends a series of electron microscope images. Oooooh! The first ones, in black and white, defined and beautiful, show the marking and pattern of the male worm. He appears to float in stillness (I don’t imagine the intestines are a quiet place. Are they?)

Soon I receive a Powerpoint of larvae that is out of the eggs, she says, in the presence of bacteria. (I can’t identify the bacteria.) And then more photos patterned and stained bright show the internal structure of an adult female whipworm infecting the cecum of a mouse. A transversal section shows the eggs.

I make time to get to my drawing table. I want to better understand what I see.

Cecum, Eggs and my imagination.

I spend a day drawing the cecum, a pouch connecting the small and large intestine. I imagine the area with little light (dark) so I take my drawing into a filter and play with it ↑.

Cecum is from the Latin caecus and means blind – blind intestine, blind gut or cul de sac.
Maria identifies the super beautiful cecum epithelia and explains it is only a single layer of cells, that is folded in ‘crypts’ to maximize the area. 

I note the eggs. I wonder how long they take to hatch. (Is this the correct language? Do they hatch?)

I spend a few days looking at photos and drawing worms. Yes, they do resemble a whip.

The female is larger than the male. I’m surprised to know the thinner narrower end of the worm is where the mouth is located while the wider end is its rear.

I take the image into a filter and again imagine the inside of the large intestine.

I get lost in the drawing.  I have to remind myself these are parasites that cause serious problems to the host. #DrawingInProcess #2sided


I learn from Dr María A Duque-Correa whipworm infection causes Trichuriasis, which affects millions of children around the world. Her goal is to more fully understand the initial stages of the epithelia infection by the larvae, a crucial step that determines whether the worms are expelled or remain in the gut causing chronic disease. In the long term, this knowledge will help to develop vaccines and discover drugs to fight whipworm infections.

Here is one of her public engagement programs → Worm Hunters.

Crossing my fingers that we will work together in the future.