The Giant Roundworm

Ascaris lumbricoides (lined) by Laura UlrichAscaris lumbricoides (unlined) by Laura Ulrich

Meet Ascaris lumbridcoides, a nematode, one of  humanity’s largest and most common parasites. How large, you ask? An adult female can grow to be grow to be 45 cm long!  How common, you wonder? So common that approximately 25% of the world’s population is infected.

I wanted to tell you all about the wonders of this worm, from its life cycle (eggs are ingested, they hatch in the stomach, for whatever reason the larvae don’t like the small intestine so they go and party in the lungs for a while, before eventually maturing and realizing the intestines weren’t so bad after all) to the symptoms it can cause (most people have few/none, but you can imagine what its like for heavily infected individuals to have many larval-worms living in their lungs and, likewise, numerous half-meter-long adults getting tangled up in their guts). But unfortunately it is getting quite late, and I have lab exams for the next few days.

Instead, I would like to tell you a short story as told to me (roughly) by my professor. The name of the University where this happened has been changed, as I’m not sure if I can broadcast that sort of thing, and the names of the people involved were made up for the ease of storytelling:

There once was a grad student named Jerry, who was lucky enough to study at the Centre of Parasitology, at the prestigious MacGaill University. Jerry was a very ambitious young man, and his research looked like it may take the field to whole new heights (or perhaps not, Jerry was also a very arrogant young man). Not all was perfect in Jerry’s life, however, for within the very lab where he worked he had… a nemesis, who went by the name of Tom.

Tom and Jerry shared one of history’s greatest feuds. No one knows why they despised each other so, but others working in the lab hypothesized it may have been that Tom had stolen Jerry’s grant money. Or maybe Jerry had stolen Tom’s lucky marker. No one knew for sure.

This feud came to an end, however, when Jerry finished his seventeenth cup of Orange Pekoe on an otherwise nondescript day. Unbeknownst to him, Tom had slipped a little something into his tea when he was off checking his PCR results. A little, unremarkable white powder that barely covered the bowl of a teaspoon. A little, unremarkable white powder that, if someone had taken a much, much closer look at, would have been revealed to be several hundreds of thousands of Ascaris eggs.

Jerry was later hospitalized, and Tom was found out because he really wasn’t all that smart, and had used a parasite he was known to study.

The End!

I couldn’t settle on a version this week, so I’m give you both! Please let me know which version you like better (or how to improve one or both) in the comments below.


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