How human are we?

Extra Ear London, Los Angeles, Melbourne 2006 ...

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Went to a lecture at FACT Liverpool last night by Stelarc. This chap messes around with his body in the name of art. Stelarc is a Greek/Australian-based performance artist incorporated themes of cyborgization and other human-machine interfaces; it is amazing, strong stuff. He talked about the blurring of boundaries between dead and undead (us or zombies?) and at what stage you cease to become yourself for example if your body was to be made up almost entirely of prosthetics. At what point do we accept that we have become machines? Companies will now deep freeze your body perhaps to be resurrected in a few hundred years time or for a reduced price…. just the head.  He has experimented with a third arm and linked himself up to the internet and invited users to manipulate his arm via electronic links his body.

Stelarc has a neat party trick, if the conversation on the bus ever gets boring he can always roll up his sleeve and enquire ” have you seen my third ear?” Yes, stelarc is growing an ear on his arm. The next step is to wire up the arm ear with a microphone which is WiFi enabled so that people can listen in via the arm ear.  Its not ‘his’ ear but an ear to be used by others. There followed a fascinating conversation between Liz Carr an Abnormally Funny Person and Stelarc about the body, its boundaries and the the use of the third ear (This was part of the amazing DaDaFest in Liverpool).

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What’s in a name? What’s a Sandfly?

Life cycle of the parasites from the genus Lei...

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When people talk about sand flies it can be very confusing because there are several different bloodsucking insects around the world called sand flies. This is why scientists use latin names for species to avoid confusion.

My work on sand flies that spread Leishmania parasites is on the group of phlebotomine sand flies. The English name of “sand fly” is very confusing for phlebotomines since they dont all live in sand; Brazilian ones may live in the rainforest, no sand in sight and they don’t all live on the beach. In Middle East deserts it may be appropriate.  Both black flies (Simuliidae) and biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) are also known as “sand flies” in various parts of the world. The latter are the ones most likely to be biting people on beaches, particularly members of the genus Culicoides.

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Science and Culture

Being in Liverpool there is a debate to be had about what is ‘culture’. I was reading Phil Redmonds blog about his suggestion that culture could be defined as ‘arts, literature and shared lifestyle’. Then goes on to comment about scientists….me included who said ‘hey wait a minute’ we think that science has its place in culture….

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Sand flies, Leishmania and Dinosaurs

Sand flies and other bloodsucking insects have been around for millions of years. They are known to have fed on dinosaurs, there are still reptile feeding sand flie around today. George and Roberta Poinar have studied fossil amber and found 100 million year old sand flies from  amber created in the dinosaur era. These sand flies were found to contain Leishmania parasites in their proboscis; thus Leishmania  might have plagued the dinosaurs and even helped force them into extinction.

A scientific paper giving more details of the technique of examining sand flies in dominicon amber is given in this link….

Lutzomyia adiketis sp. n. (Diptera: Phlebotomidae), a vector of Paleoleishmania neotropicum sp. n. (Kinetoplastida: Trypanosomatidae) in Dominican amber.

My research on sand flies and leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is an important disease and the parasite is transmitted by blood-sucking sand flies with approximately two million new cases every year and one tenth of the world’s population at risk of infection.  The WHO give a good introduction about the current situation around the world regarding Leishmaniasis.

Leishmania are  parasites transmitted by the bite of the small midge–like  phlebotomine sand fly.

One of the main ways to control leishmaniasis is to control the insect or disrupt the insect part of the parasite life cycle   but our  knowledge of the sand fly in relation to development of the parasite is inadequate for developing new targets for control.

One of my main projects is to identify the genes  involved in the interaction of the sand fly and the parasite that it transmits and this will greatly extend our knowledge  of the interaction between insect  and Leishmania  and provide a sound basis  for developing new control systems for this disease. We are also involved in field based research examining sand fly biology and the spread of the disease in urban environments in N.E. Brazil.

Short Video clips of sand fly collecting sites in Teresina Brazil.

More backyard sand fly collecting from Rod Dillon on Vimeo.

  • Afghanistan hit by skin disease ( People in Kabul are suffering from leishmaniasis; in this case the less serious cutaneous form of the disease. However this causes unsightly skin lesions and carries social stigma and may prevent young girls from finding a suitable partner.
  • Observations of a Nerd Ah, the joys of a tropical getaway. There’s warm, clear waters, soft, sandy beaches, and of course, a whole ton of amazing parasites waiting to gorge on your delicious flesh……..

mosquito killing laser/high speed video

Mosquito Shootdown Sequence: Video clips showing mosquitoes being killed by lasers.  If played in real time, these segments would be roughly 1/10th of a second long. These high speed photographic images of mosquitoes were captured by Intellectual Ventures Laboratory scientists using a Vision Research Phantom V12.1, shooting at up to 6,000 frames per second.


This is a blog about my interests in science and art and how I am working within and between the boundaries of the two.  There will be posts on my current research on the tropical disease leishmaniasis and the insects (sand flies) that spread the disease and my interests in microbes. Also stuff that interests me where artists are working  on an equal footing and in close collaboration with scientists.

My journey into ‘artscience’ for want of a better word started in Liverpool during Capital of Culture year 2008. I was desperate to do some art work related to my research on tropical diseases; the superlambanana wagon came along and I hitched onto it and got the LSTM to sponsor a lambanana. That was when SuperKalazarlambanana…the name that was far too complicated and everyone mispelt, was created one afternoon between myself and my PhD student Hector Diaz. (see also LSTM page on our lambanana).

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