Friday, 19 April 2019

Sunday, 31 March 2019

New Parasitic Wasp Discovered

Rueters, 1st April 2019

By Kanmani Ponnu

With additional reporting by Peppa Chamatthu

Researchers at the Department of Parasitology, Hops Johnkins Medical Institute, Washington DC, today announced that they had found a major new parasite of human nervous systems.

The creature is the larva of a microscopic wasp, the smallest ever discovered, smaller than some single celled organisms. It has yet to be issued a formal biological name, but the Hops Johnkins Parasitology Department has shortlisted one for consideration.

“The animal is truly remarkable,” the head of the Department of Parasitology, Dr Hector Oaks, told Rueters over the telephone. “Not only is it so small, but its mode of infection is more like a virus than an animal.”

The parasite, Dr Oaks said, is, like other wasps and bees, a member of the order Hymenoptera of Class Insecta, Phylum Arthropoda, the group that includes butterflies and cockroaches, crabs and lobsters, spiders and millipedes. It is the larva of the adult, which itself is so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye.

“The adult wasp,” Dr Oaks said, “has evolved drastically away from the original form but only in size; it can still handily be recognised for what it is under the microscope. It is, however, the larva that is parasitic. This larva, which is white, is sharply curved except for its tail end, so that it closely resembles a sickle in shape. It is so tiny that it can enter the body of the nerve cells, the neurons, and gestate inside them before moving to other cells.

The female, winged, wasp (above), compared to single celled animals, and the wingless male (below)

“This animal,” Dr Oaks continued, “has developed parasitic tactics hitherto unknown among other multicellular organisms. The wasp lays its eggs on the surface of a person’s skin. The larva hatches on the skin, and crawls down the duct of a sweat gland until it reaches the inner skin layer, the dermis. There it bores its way out of the sweat gland and crawls around until it finds a neuron, which, of course, is not difficult since the skin is richly supplied with nerve endings. It bores its way into the neuron with its sharp sickle end, and there, inside the cell, it settles down to feed and lay eggs.”

Dr Oaks went on to say that the wasp larva is the only multicellular organism known in which the juvenile form also lays eggs. “It is one of the most remarkable evolutionary adaptations ever seen,” he said. “The larva is born pregnant, and is in fact little more than a bag of eggs. Once it settles down in a neuron, it absorbs nutrition from the cell cytoplasm, and swells up until it bursts open, releasing the eggs. These eggs resemble tiny blue rods with a blob at the end, so that they look rather like a hammer. Each hatches within hours, releasing more larvae, known as Stage II larvae. These Stage II larvae are externally identical to the first, or Stage I, larva, but are of course even smaller. They burrow out of the neuron and move along the body of the nerve, absorbing nutrients as they travel, until, eventually, they reach the brain.

“Once they arrive at the brain, each larva begins to secrete chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, of course, are naturally produced by the human brain, but the parasitic wasp produces mimics which override the genuine neurotransmitters and significantly affect the behaviour of the host. Parasitic wasps are well known for their ability to convert their hosts into “zombies” which obey the commands of the parasites, but this is the first instance where such an action has been seen in a human being.

“The effect in a human is to drive the afflicted person to seek out others, both affected and unaffected, and to congregate with them in large numbers. Meanwhile, some of the larvae, but not all, crawl out of the brain and back down the nerves until they reach the closest skin, usually that of the face. They then burrow out of the nerve endings and wander around the dermis until they find a sweat gland. Each larva that has survived up to this point immediately curls up and secretes a capsule around itself, which has five points, which under the microscope resembles a star and is dark red in colour. Inside that capsule the larva pupates and emerges as a new adult wasp, which crawls up the sweat gland duct until it reaches the surface of the skin. There it waits, secreting chemicals known as pheromones, which attract wasps of the opposite sex. After mating on the skin, the males, which have no wings or functional mouth parts, die; the females, which are now pregnant, fly off to find new hosts on whose skin to lay eggs and begin the cycle over again.

“Meanwhile, the larvae that have remained in the brain continue to produce neurotransmitters that modify the host’s behaviour in drastic ways. First, as already stated, the parasite compels the infected person to congregate with other people, both infected and otherwise; the sufferer will, in fact, be driven to organise such meetings, by the internet if necessary. This means that the pregnant female wasp has more potential hosts to infect, while the male has the opportunity to mate with females from other hosts and avoid the risks of inbreeding. Secondly, it drastically changes, for reasons so far unknown, not just the behaviour but the political beliefs of the affected person.

“And in what way does it do this? You only have to look at the shapes of the various stages of the larval parasite. While the adult female looks like a very, very tiny wasp, with wings like tendrils, and the male similar but with no wings at all, the larva looks, first, like a white sickle. Then it produces eggs that resemble tiny blue hammers. And in its final stage, the pupa, it looks like a dark red star.

“Is that not enough? The larva in its various forms looks like a white sickle, a blue hammer, and a red star. Clearly there is only one way it can affect the political beliefs of those it infects!

“Yes,” Dr Oaks concluded. “We have confirmed that this parasitic wasp turns its victims into Russian bots, trolls, agents, and zombies. And we therefore suggest that it can only have one name appropriate to it – Moscowaspus vladimirputinii - after the evil Russian dictator, who must in some way be responsible. And we will recommend to the Pentagon that the United States must start World War Three at once!"

For more on this story,  click here.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Help Me Out Here (Or Out Of Here)

Google Plus is being murdered on 2 April.

Back in the day, until about 2017, I used to be very active on Google Plus. It was the anti-Fakebook, free of adverts and cat videos, with a high intellectual level, and, at first, little to no censorship.

But Google was not making any money out of it. So it killed it.

The writing was on the wall for a while, really. Google stopped, for all intents and purposes, maintaining Google Plus around 2016. It allowed it to wither away, while looking for an excuse – any excuse – to kill it off. And the wishes of its users be damned.

That excuse came in the shape of a “security breach” a year or so ago, which even Google admits did not expose its users’ data to anybody (unlike, you know, Fakebook). But, rather than just fixing the breach and moving on, Google chose to close down the social network altogether.

It’s just the latest in a long, long, line of things Google has killed off. And it almost certainly won’t be the last.

The next, or the next but one, or the next one after that, I believe, will be Blogger.


The signs are unmistakable.

Between 2006 and 2012, I was on the greatest blogging/social media website ever created, Multiply. It was killed off after being taken over by a South African corporate criminal called Stefan Magdalinsky, who was far too greedy for his own good, and chose to convert it into an e-shopping network. While he only murdered Multiply in 2012, the signs had been clear since mid-2011, though, that the site was doomed. And those of us who recognised those signs, like me, began to look for an alternative site to move to.

Today, I see those same signs in Blogspot.

Let’s be clear about this – I do not trust Google as far as I can throw it. I do not trust it to not kill off Blogspot, which it owns, because it can.

But, more than that, I have some observations.

First, most of Blogger is free. It has no adverts. The majority of users don’t pay Google to use it. What that means is that Google is not making any money from it, and we know Google is all about money.

Secondly, and, yes, I am blaming most of you who are reading this, blogging is headed down the road to the same extinction that visited such concepts as chat rooms and Orkut. Why? Simple. You don’t read. Even those of you who would think nothing of writing ten thousand word long stories ten years ago don’t want to read anything longer than ten word long memes and tweets now. You don’t have to pretend – I can see it in my stats. And that means, in turn, that I have less and less incentive to spend my spare time doing the hard work of writing. Right?

Right. And though I’m just one person, the whole of Blogger is headed down the same route. And it's getting worse. People who used to write a hundred or more posts a year ago can scarcely be bothered to type out one or two short blogs in six months now.

Do you think Blogger and its owner Google are unaware of that? They are not unaware of that. No.

The other signs are equally clear. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but Blogger has become, essentially, maintenance-free. Spam comments are no longer delivered to spam folders, but to your inbox. All these years, and Blogger still hasn’t managed to create a comment edit function, something, you know, just about everyone else has had for fifteen years if not longer. And more!

Recently, it’s become harder and harder to post or edit posted articles. Typically, when I post something and click on save, I get this:

 An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post. Please try again. Dismiss

And no matter how many times I click, I keep getting it. Only if I open a separate window to my blog do I see if the damn thing has posted/updated or not.

This is most definitely Not A Good Sign. This is not a sign of a site which really cares any longer whether it still exists or what the hell you do on it.

In other words, it’s a site which is, sooner or later, doomed.

As such, I have decided to look for another blogging site. I need, at the very least, to create an online backup of my posts here. Here are my requirements:

1     It needs to be free (I can’t pay in dollars even if I wanted to, and I don’t).
2     It needs to be no-censorship, as Blogspot still is.
3    It needs to be easy-to-use (without any fancy formatting troubles).
4     It must have no limits on uploads (unlike WordPress, for example).
5    Readers ought to be able to comment with the minimum of trouble.
6.    I need to have a reasonable expectation that it won’t vanish tomorrow.

I realise that most of these points could be addressed by my own website, but I’ll be frank.

First, much as I want my own site, I cannot afford it, and will not be able to in the foreseeable future. You realise that unlike a lot of other bloggers, I do not have a donate button, I do not beg for money via Patreon from you people, and anything I put online is free for you to read and share. But by the same token, I do not make a penny for my writing, and I cannot afford to divert funds from more important purposes in order to pay to maintain a website of my own.

Second, I have zero skills at web design, and the costs of paying a professional web designer to set up a website for me are far more than I can even conceive of affording.

Third, a readymade blogging site comes with other users and readers. This is not true of a website I have to start from scratch. I do not expect more than five of you (you know who you are) to follow me wherever I might go.

Therefore, I need suggestions. Tell me what other blogging sites (not WordPress, thank you, I already use it for my cartoons and I hate it, thank you very much all the same) you know about.

Thanks in advance in case you have suggestions. Or, you know, not.