Thursday, June 7, 2012
Annie Dillard: “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the surface of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”
Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Where did the wasp’s sting come from?
If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a wasp’s sting, you’ll know how painful it is. But did you know that the paralysing chemicals that some parasitic wasps use to stun their hosts came from virus genes that the wasps picked up around 100 million years ago. This new finding answers the conundrum of where they came from.
This research, by Annie Bezier and her colleagues in France and Switzerland, was done using braconid wasps, that prey on other insects, laying their eggs in caterpillars and other larvae. These wasps use paralysing proteins to immobilise their hosts, providing a nice home for the growing wasp grubs.
Back in 1967, scientists noticed that virus-like particles were present in the ovaries of female braconid wasps, and that these were injected into the host when eggs were laid. It’s thought that the virus particles help to suppress any immune response in the host caterpillar, which might cause it to reject the wasp grub.
These virus particles were found to combine with DNA to make viruses known as poly-DNA viruses. But when these virus-like particles were found in many different types of wasp it posed a problem. Where were these viruses coming from – and were they actually viruses as all?
Bezier and her team found that the genes encoding these virus-like particles were related to an ancient type of virus called a nudivirus. But the virus-like protein packages didn’t carry virus DNA, as you might expect, but wasp DNA. So the wasp DNA has somehow got mixed up with the virus DNA. And now the virus-like proteins are used to transmit wasp DNA into the parasite’s host.
Well it sheds new light on the relationship between viruses and their hosts, as well as the relationship between these parasitic wasps and their hosts. - From The Naked Scientists
This poem is one of the first I wrote from the other guy's point of view. I do believe it remarkable.
I land on this thing
Doughy pasty white and stinks!
So I sting it. Hah!
I plant me deep and I squirt.
May I say this feels so good?
I hear a distant roar
That shakes the place I've landed.
So I take off. Hah!
Written November 21, 2008
First Published February 18, 2012