Symbionts & Parasites

edited February 2011 in Everything else
Since I read almost everything on this forum and never discovered anything about the use of parasites and symbionts,
I want to open this thread for all who are interested in using original and genetic altered lifeforms for biological enhancement / cure of diseases.

For example :

I think this too could be productive in some ways.


  • That's an interesting idea.  You might like this radio episode:

    It is a good listen.  It seems like the parasite mentioned in this program would be an ideal partner for someone who suffers from anxiety (it triggers dopamine release).  It would be cool if there was a parasite that could give you an acetylcholine boost.
  • @DirectorX:  I'm sure we could genetically engineer something to release some drug or similar that triggers acetylcholine (I don't know if there are any drugs that do that), or that directly releases choline acetyltransferase, which is the enzyme that makes acetylcholine, into your neurons.  The latter would probably be easier, as sequencing the gene that makes this enzyme would probably be easier than trying to find a gene that makes the right substance.
  • We could also research bacteria in the gut of certain organisms that allow them to digest beta-glucose
  • @Lukas:  I'll bet the "gut flora" as it's sometimes called, could be another field in and of itself, as we could use it for quite a lot of things, most of which would involve either digesting some things we ordinarily couldn't (though we'd need to be careful, as e.g. allowing us to digest cellulose would rob us of our main source of fiber), or else making compounds for us that we normally don't produce (for example, we could allow chemosynthetic bacteria to give us another source of energy).  There are other examples too; we could engineer bacteria to attack certain pathogens that enter our bodies through the digestive system.  This may be speculation, but the potential benefits are, at least from where I'm sitting, numerous.
  • Do you think this is an easy mod?  The parasite that releases the dopamine attaches itself to the blood stream (I believe).  It releases the dopamine when it detects high stress events in an attempt to suppress fight/flight response and get the host killed.  Would a bacteria confined to the digestive track be effective?  Also, is there a chemical trigger that could signal the release of choline acetyltransferase?  Or would it be constant?
  • @DirectorX:  Well, as far as mods go, probably not exactly the easiest.  Also, while the fight/flight response is still useful in some situations, in others it's almost suicidal.  In our modern age, it's usually better to stay calm and cool when danger strikes, because it's easier to think rationally, since most situations we get into are ones that can be solved by outwitting the danger.  I mean, most of us don't have to run away from hungry predators on a daily basis.  With that in mind, would suppressing the fight/flight response really be as horrible as it sounds?

    As for choline acetyltransferase, it would probably be better to only release the enzyme, or acetylcholine itself, under certain conditions, so what we'd probably want is a bacterium that detects when we want the enzyme released, then releases it.
  • According to the radio program, the side effects of these parasites were interesting in humans.  Humans infected with the parasite had abnormally high risk levels.  Women tend to shop more.  Men would gamble more.  It seems as though it induces an attitude of not giving a damn. 

    That's all due to the dopamine though (in response to stress).  Some stress is good.
  • Interesting.  So the people with these parasites didn't actually think more rationally (if they did, they wouldn't be gambling) as I expected.

    Of course, it's not about the stress, which is defined as changes to a normal routine.  It's all about how you respond to it.  Usually, people who tend to think about overcoming their stressors in a calm way tend to be able to overcome them much more easily than those who freak out.

    Another interesting point:  Why would the parasite try to get the host killed?  Most parasites depend on their hosts for survival, and if they do end up killing the host, it's usually to maximize their spread (smallpox is a great example of that).  The activity of this parasite just seems downright suicidal.
  • Suicidal, maybe. But maybe not. There is a parasite infecting ants and causing them to change their behaviour. They then climb up the grass leaves and get eaten by other animals (sheep prefered for what I remember) which then become the new host. So as you said: spreading.
    Maybe these parasites spread by their hosts getting eaten by a predator as well.
  • edited February 2011
    Yes, the parasite can only breed in a certain organism (birds in this example).  After it has reproduced in the bird, it is defecated onto the ground and then spends the rest of it's time trying to get back into a bird.  When fish see birds above them, they become excited and swim deeper into the water.  The fish with the parasites tend to relax more because the parasite gives them a heavy dose of dopamine.  Fish infected with this parasite are 80 times more likely to be eaten than fish that are not infected.  The parasite is an emotional puppeteer, just so it can get back into the bird.

    I'm trying to recall this all from memory and I'm probably butchering it.  You should listen to the program.  The impact of parasites on human society is huge.  Apparently countries that have higher parasite infection rates tend to have stricter laws on business and investing due to higher rates of shady business practices and higher risk tolerances of it's people.  Also, they are using them [the parasites] on schizophrenics but I forget why. 
  • edited February 2011
    @Ian: the gut flora is _amazingly_ complex; there are more bacteria in your large intestine than there are cells in your body. Species numbers vary; somewhere between 300 and 1000 different types. And everybody's microbial load is unique:
    Relatives aside, individuals had extremely different gut bacteria,
    with few genetic similarities from person to person. No single species
    was present in more than 0.5% of the stool samples as a whole, and none
    were found in all the people involved." (Source here).
    Culturing a representative sample of your gut bacteria and testing your prospective introduced species ex situ should be relatively easy, but this is not an ideal environment for monkeying around in. There's almost no niche in your gut unexploited, so your bacteria would have to outcompete something. Insert terror-filled lab risk assessor here.

    Also, fight or flight response is dead handy; I have never been more focussed or thought more clearly than when riding the edge of a wicked, panic-fueled adrenalin dump.
  • An adrenaline producing parasite would be interesting.
  • @DirectorX: I dunno, I like having a heartbeat that occasionally drops below a dull whine... (",)
    Whoever fixed my HTML; thanks.
  • When you started talking about gut bacteria, i was reminded of something i read a few years ago. Maybe a century ? It was about bacteria cultures, made for the mouth, so that in the end you would never have to brush your teeth again.
    Does anybody know what happend to that kind of project ?
  • I'm not certain about an acetylcholine parasite, but I don't think it would work. I'm coming at this from a nootropics angle, where there is a lot of trouble getting choline into the brain to increase acetylcholine synthesis. If it were as easy as just ingesting acetylcholine people would do so.
  • @RandomCharacter:  What I had in mind was a parasite that was in the bloodstream, or some other convenient location, which released both choline acetyltransferase and the raw materials needed for acetylcholine production.  That still might not work, but it's worth a try.
  • edited March 2011
    I wouldn't trust a wild and primitive thing such as parasite on such important things like brain chemicals. At first glance it looks nice - free chems but results of some complications could be horrendous.
    We have so many nice drugs releasing dopamine when one needs it: anti-depressants, hundreds of stimulants.
    @RandomCharacter: About acetylcholine: look at Alpha-GPC, it's costly but it really works.
  • @Ian Sounds interesting. I hate to be "that guy" but I would try it on several rodents first.

    @Monochrome I've heard of it, and I'll keep your recommendation in mind. I'm pretty happy with my current stack. I'm lucky in that I seem to have ideal genetics(or something) for DMAA.
  • @RandomCharacter:  Agreed.  Even if it works exactly as I describe it, we still don't know all side effects that could potentially result from manipulating our acetylcholine production, so I definitely agree that we should make sure it works before trying it on ourselves.
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