This blog is organized in reverse order...from the oldest post to the newest.

Friday, September 26, 2008


First round of modifications. Not to bore anyone with specifics, but the goal seems to be what I was thinking it was. To change the effects that a parasite has on it's host, to make it less harmful. The project is a little more compartmentalized than I had hoped, there supposedly won't be much information exchanged between the team that is observing the results of the parasites on subjects and the team doing the actual gene modification. Since I am on the genetic engineering side, I may not know what the actual results of the modified parasites is on the test subjects, I will only know if they were labeled as successful or not.

Either way, I am still excited. There were 4 different modifications done to 2 different species. As far as I know, these were changes made that are thought to alter amino acid secretion and reproduction.

I would name my new babies, but there are a few hundred of them. However, I have decided to name the modified groups. So far the labels are basically which genes were isolated for modification on which species. The eight variations we have are all seemingly random numbers and letters that coordinate with certain spots on the genetic code of different species that were mapped out prior. Since they are confusing to even me, I'm trying to turn them into legible words.

Variation TA2DO9 looks like TAZDOG. So that's the TAZDOG variation. Very imaginative, I know.

So far, we have:

JR39C - Junior (JR) Variation
G1GR - GEIGER Variation
V10LA - VIOLA Variation
S33DS5 - SEEDS Variation
WN7R - WINTER Variation
D0RS5 - DOORS Variation
A1R0W - ARROW Variation

Even I am aware of how lonely and pathetic it makes me sound to list out the names I created from the labels. Wow.

Oh well, I enjoy it, and I hope at the very least, this turns out to be education or entertainment for some people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Hello, again. I've had a couple of comments come in asking me to prove that I am not making this up. To them, I have this to say: No.

I already said that I signed NDAs and that I was not able to go into full detail about everything. I love the idea of writing a blog and letting anyone who is interested follow. I would have loved to have found something like this earlier, I still would. But I love my job more, and I am not going to blow that because of a few jaded internet people. I honestly apologize.

What I can tell you about the project, though, is still pretty interesting. The lab was hired by a pretty prolific private company that specializes in health and medicine. I can imagine that they, in turn, were hired by someone else like a pharmaceutical company or health department, to come up with a product. It's our job to help them design that product. I think.

What we have right now are several species of protozoan parasites. These little guys will be getting a bit of genetic engineering, some of their genes turned on or off, depending, and then another group of scientists will be recording the effects of the modifications. Where do I fit into this?

I make sure that the newly altered baby parasites are kept alive until the scientists can observe them and record the effects. It's not my dream job yet, but it's pretty close.

The actual controls have been laid out already, meaning that the genetic modifications are green lighted for next week. With the short reproduction time of these parasites, hopefully it won't be too long after that, I will have more information for anyone interested.

Thanks for the comments.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Quick lesson.

Hello again. I thought I should throw in a quick lesson on parasites before I get to the good stuff.

Bear in mind that I am not a teacher, but I probably do know more about parasites than the average person would even want to know, so here goes.

The definition of a parasite is: An organism that lives in or on and takes its nourishment from another organism. A parasite cannot live independently. There are thousands of different parasites, and fungi and bacteria can fall within that definition as well. The two main types are protozoan parasites (which are tiny and microscopic) and helminths (which are worms.) There are also carriers, called vectors, but I’m not getting into that right now.

What is important to know about parasites for what I am doing at work is that there are 3 main things most parasites do. They eat, they reproduce, and they secrete. One or more of those three things is what is harmful to the host. They might eat cells that are vital to the host, like the human brain parasite Naegleria fowleri. Or, the reproduction might be what hurts the host, because the parasite creates cysts to hold the cute little babies in, which cause all kinds of problems. And then there are the secretions. This is parasite poop. It is the waste that is usually toxic to the host, and there are so many examples of parasites that secrete harmful substances that I am not even going to start listing them out.

I am, however, going to introduce you to a little parasite you may already be quite well-acquainted with, although you may not know it. It’s Toxoplasma gondii. This little guy lives in raw meat and cat feces, and makes its way inside a person. It does a whole bunch of nasty stuff in there, but the most interesting part is that it seems that the secretions of this parasite may cause schizophrenia.

To sum it up, this is a parasite that is microscopic, is pretty common, and once it gets into a human body, it poops something that changes the chemical makeup of a person’s brain. It can make them "crazy." And that is just one example.

There are already many kinds of parasites that can invade an animal or insect and changes their behavior. There is a parasitic worm that will make a cricket jump into water and drown itself, so the worm can break out and lay eggs in the water. There is another that will convince an ant to hang from a leaf suicidally to attract a bird to eat it. Having a living organism that can invade a human’s body and then manipulate the behavior of the human is a pretty mind-blowing idea to begin with. If only we could control which behaviors are modified by the parasite and in what way. That is the idea behind the work at the lab.