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Super-flies and parasites

April 25, 2014

Welcome to the Parasites and Vectors Division blog. Let me introduce our group and the superbugs and parasites we work on (WARNING NASTY IMAGES, strong stomachs required).


The world is full of amazing animals, but there are some that have a more sinister side. Our scientists and curators look at insects, arachnids and worms that live on or inside other animals, including people.


Blue bottle fly - Calliphora vicina - forensic entomology.jpgThe blue bottle fly, Calliphora vicina colonizes corpses and is used in forensic entomology to help crime scene investigators determine time of death.


I’ll be using this blog to write about what we do, why we study these complex organisms and how we collect data in the field and in our laboratories.


I’ll reveal more about the grisly creatures we study later, but for now here’s an introduction to the main players:


  • Flies can cause the horrible disease myiasis, but are also helping scientists to determine crucial information at crime scenes through forensic entomology.
  • Mosquitos have been called the world’s most dangerous animal, carrying diseases like malaria and viruses like dengue.
  • Ticks and mites (Acari) can cause huge damage to crops, and spread diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis.
  • Blood flukes are parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis, a disease affecting over 200 million people worldwide. Museum scientists are studying these worms to help affected countries control schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease. More about this in my next post!
  • Flatworms can be parasitic monsters, but their amazing capacity for regenerative growth could inspire regenerative medicine techniques and anti-aging therapies in humans.


Myiasis .jpgMyiasis wounds on sheep in Hungary produced by the spotted flesh ply or screwworm fly (Photo credit Alexander Hall).


We use a range of DNA techniques, from mitogenomics to next generation sequencing to investigate, describe and understand parasitic worms. None of our work would be possible without the Museum’s extensive parasite and vector collections. Erica McAlister curates one of these, the diptera (true flies) collection, which you can read more about on her (very entertaining) blog.


schisto_venous_system_cattle.jpgDon't let size fool you; these tiny blood flukes living in the blood veins of animals cause a debilitating disease called Schistosomiasis.

That’s it for now but check back soon - I’ll be setting off to Tanzania next week in search of blood flukes and will surely have some stories to tell from the field!