About that tapeworm

BULLETIN: Would you care for a spot of tea with today’s science lesson? Then go to Jama Kim Rattigan’s site. She’s having a tea party. https://www.facebook.com/JamaKimRattigan/posts/10203983103160945

Hi everyone,

Something I’m working on just gave me an unexpected opportunity to use a bit of my past, my old friend Hymenolepis diminuta. That’s the little tapeworm I studied in my graduate days at Emory. It’s found primarily in rats and I chose it for my research project.

The juvenile form of H. diminuta is carried in the intestines of the confused flour beetle (Tribolium confusum) a tiny beetle that contaminates flour and other ground grains. When a rat swallows an infected beetle, the worm inside it is transferred to the rat where it grows to maturity in the rat’s lower gut and starts passing eggs out through the feces.

Confused flour beetles happen to like rat poop so they become infected and start the cycle over. Isn’t this fascinating? During certain phases of the research I couldn’t leave the lab for long periods so I often arrived at my rented room off campus in a state of exhaustion. I’d grab a few hours of rest and head back to work. One morning I reported to my lab wearing a shirt and pants over the shirt and pants I had crashed in across the bed. I had been in such a weary fog when I got up that I hadn’t realized I’d never taken off my clothes the night before.

Believe it or not, I was for a brief time back in the day one of the few authorities on the rat tapeworm. The problem was that all my fans slept in sewers. Well, I did receive the Sigma Xi award for the best scientific research at the masters level at Emory that year. My life has taken some unexpected turns and twists since then but I’m still a little vain about that recognition.

When I tell people about my first publications, magazine stories in the 60s, I usually forget that my first one was actually titled, “The Growth of the Rat Tapeworm, Hymenolepis Diminuta, During the First Five Days in the Final Host.” It was published in The Journal of Parasitology, October, 1961.

My second publication appeared in The Journal of Pharmacology. By then I’d become a pharmacologist in a pharmaceutical laboratory but that’s another story.

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15 comments on “About that tapeworm

  1. I was a journalist, and my first professional byline (in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald) was Joan Yolen!!! My first actual book was as a ghost writer for my father who was the International Kite Flying Champion (it’s a long story) for Nelson’s Young Sportsman’s Guides. It was aTHE YOUNG SPORTSMAN’S GUIDE TO KITE FLYING. My name is not on the book, his is.

    • Ha! I got one of those too. In a Rand McNally book of witch stories, one of mine listed me as Arthur Kennon Graham. Another long story. It would make an interesting book just to list the origins of selected authors. How fascinating that your pop was a champion kite flyer!! Such interesting bits of the past.

  2. tapeworm, tapeworm, munching on intestines
    you and your appetite, you’ll probably go far!
    seems to me you’d stop & think how horrible you are…

    boy oh boy, David Harrison, what a Renaissance Dude you are!

    • Tapeworm, tapeworm, eating intestines,
      Wore a black hat in the country westines
      His Speedo was voted the best of the bestines,
      I hope this has answered the rest of your questines.

  3. This is my favorite post of yours yet…having had lots of fun times with rats (I worked in a biopsyc lab as an undergrad) and with my son being a biology major. As well, my pre-50 metabolism was so amazing that my mom used to joke to everyone that I had a giant tapeworm in me.

    Anyway, I respected you before, but now my estimation of you has gone up several notches. You may even inspire a SF story in me! 🙂

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