This week I meet Tapoka Mkandawire, a scientist out of the Welcome Sanger Institute.
Tapoka’s focus is Trichuriasis, a disease I cover earlier in this public engagement project. Looking at the role of the host intestinal bacteria (microbiota) in inducing the hatching of whipworm eggs, she brings another angle to the picture.
Trichuriasis is a disease caused by infection with Trichuris trichiura, the human whipworm; affecting over 450 million people. She reminds me, the infection occurs when people eat food or drink water contaminated with whipworm eggs. These eggs hatch in the intestines liberating worms that burrow into the intestinal wall.
In my work I collect various samples from the intestine, different bacteria reside in specific communities or sections along the gut and they have different properties and functions as a result of this. Some of these samples are also better at inducing hatching of the whipworms than others. We can look at the DNA of these communities through metagenomic analysis and get an in-depth understanding of the members and the functions of these populations and relate this to their ability to cause whipworm hatching.
Tapoka describes the barrel shaped egg ↑ and its pair of polar plugs at each end and continues, When the parasite eggs get to the cecum they detect that this is the environment they need to be in to establish an infection. Part of the way they can detect this is through the bacteria, as like the worms, different bacteria prefer different parts of the gut. The bacteria in the caecum, are a signal to the worm in the egg that it is in the right place. Once that signal has been received the process of hatching can begin. During hatching the polar plugs on the egg, the little blobs at either end, are eroded away and then the worm is free to swim out of the egg into the gut where it can infect cells. This eroding or degrading of the polar plugs is done by enzymes expressed by the worms and bacteria.
I ask her to define metagenomics. A collection of genetic material from a mixed community of organisms….lots of DNA coming from different species.
We end up talking about the uniqueness of the individual all the way down to the uniqueness of their bugs (microbiome).
Tapoka: We curate our microbes!
Me: We curate our gut microbiome?
T: Yes, and it’s a diverse variety. Imagine a hive of activity! A swarm! Chaos!
M: Do you know what bacteria is doing what, and where?
T: I’m getting closer!
And with this, the conversation turns to poop and all the information a stool sample can gather. She also talks about the hygiene hypothesis and the missing friends theory.
I’m curious, can you send a stool sample image? Under the microscope? She can and she does!
She sends many files labeled Poo/Debris Under Microscope.
Above ↑ and below ↓ are one sample at two different magnifications.
Question: What is all this where looking at here? And what, in particular, is the bright perfect circle?
I don’t know about you, but this stuff makes me think of the work of Paul Klee!
Below is my mixed media version of … a poo smear. #someprocess
There is such a value to drawing and painting things out for me. #looking #seeing
It’s truly how I learn.
I’m not finished…there’s a little bit more I think I want to cover with this bacteria/whipworm/cecum/egg thing.
Good to meet you Tapoka, I have to admit, this was fun. Thank you!
For more about Tapoka Mkandawire → LinkedIn.
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