Wriggly Things

Here filmmaker Anne Milne gives us an update on her CIIE findings. After spending a lot of time at the Ashworth labs over the last month Anne has been busy filming and experimenting. For her research Anne has been looking at ‘wriggly things’ from tiny threadlike parasitic worms to the dangerous parasites found in cotton rats. She tells us how her findings have inspired her individual project…

By Anne Milne
Monday, 9 March 2015

I had a meeting with Judi Allen, a Principal Investigator whose work is primarily studying the interaction between parasitic worms and their hosts. Among her research projects, she is working with a model system of Litomosoides sigmodontis, a parasite found in cotton rats in the wild. But the model system can also be used to develop vaccines against filarial* infections in humans, an extreme example of which is Elephantitis, a devastating illness in which the parasite does not actually kill the host, but rather causes disfigurement and a great deal of pain and distress. These parasites can live in the body up to 5-10 years, manipulating the immune system of its host. Judi arranged for me to meet up with Alison Fulton, a technician whose job it is to make sure the worms are properly looked after and basically healthy. She spends half her time in Judi’s Lab and half with Matt Taylor, whose lab also looks at immune responses to parasites.

*Filariasis (or philariasis) is a parasitic disease caused by an infection with roundworms of the Filarioidea type

Film by Anne Milne

Alison very kindly ‘harvested’ some worms for me to look at and film. As you can see in the video below, they look very much like thin strands of thread. If you look closely, you can see the hooked ends of the male worms. They use this hook to latch onto the females in order to mate. When they first enter the mammals, the worms are still at the larvae stage, L3, which is the infective stage of the worm. They are transmitted via a vector, the tropical rat mite.

As they grow, due to the confined nature of their host’s gut, the worms end up entangled with each other, resembling a big ball of tangled threads. I later took the worms with me down to the Little Lab where I was able to film them through the microscope. These clips will appear in the experimental film, Invasion, which will form part of my installation at Summerhall.

wormPhoto by Anne Milne
The following week, Alison invited me down to the microscope room in the basement to look at some slides. What she wanted to point out to me was the form and structure of the female worm. During what I termed the Worm Tour we watched as the microscope travelled the length of a mature female worm. I filmed it as Alison explained what was going on. The female worm is essentially a giant incubator. The length of her body, which can grow to 17 cm contains millions of eggs. The vulva, where the worms emerge is pretty much at the top end of the worm, right next to the head!

It’s great for us to see how Anne, as a filmmaker has approached the research and visual elements of the CIIE. The short video excerpt included here gives us an insight into some of the work Anne has been getting up to. Her final films will be on display along with the work of our other CIIE micro-residency artists, in the Lower Church Galleries, Summerhall from the 4th April – 22nd May. This exhibition will launch for the Edinburgh International Science Festival at 7pm, 3rd April and will be open to the public daily from 11am – 6pm.

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