Science Editorials on Televised Immunology is pleased to present this special edition of Research Highlights in conjunction with the Science and Nature Television Association. In this issue, we address evolutionary adaptations in multiple species that improve individual survival during cold seasons by modifying group social behaviour.
Induced erythema helps ostracized males rejoin the community
Many cultures contain within their mythologies the story of a demigod who brings hope to people during winter, a time that historically represents fear and darkness. References to this individual describe him as having red cheeks and the supernatural ability to generate diverse resources. Despite complete isolation from the human community for most of the year, these traits allow him to move among other members of his species, receive nourishment from multiple feeding groups without being perceived as a threat, and even find mates.
Scientists now know that these stories reflect a unique epigenetic modification that developed in northern populations whereby blood flow to the face is altered in response to ostracization from the social group during the winter months (“induced erythema”). It has long been suspected that a ruddy complexion is indicative of sociability and desirability as a mate; however, the first definitive case of induced erythema was not confirmed until 1994, when a single, middle-aged male removed from his family unit presented with increased appetite and weight gain, accelerated aging, and development of the telltale red complexion. Research performed in the lab of Dr. Kringle at the Norwegian Academy of Magical Science revealed increased acetylation and expression of a novel gene (SantA) in the red blood cells of this individual.
To investigate this phenomenon further, Kringle et al. performed a series of experiments in Svalbard reindeer, which have a gene that shares 95% homology with SantA. In their study, transfusing an adult male with SantA-rich blood following segregation from the herd at a young age led to intense remodelling and vasodilation of nasal capillaries, generating heat and light that was found to be a valuable resource for the other reindeer.
Based on these promising results, a Phase I clinical trial was started using SantA transfusions in a small population in Northern Whoville. Unfortunately, this trial was terminated before the one-year mark due to reports of severe adverse events, including decreased heart muscle mass, chlorosis and the development of impulsive aggression. Further studies are required to determine if more specific manipulation of SantA could be performed safely in humans in the future.
The North Arctic Journal of Medicine. 12: 30-31 (2015).
PARASITISM & MIMICRY
“SNO” uses quorum signalling to mimic and manipulate human interaction
Recent work by Drs. C. Oswald and H. Anderson at the Gerda Institute (GI) has led to the discovery of the organism responsible for Frigorus Ostia or “Frosty” syndrome. There have long been reports of humanoid creatures, believed to be magical or extraterrestrial, capable of inducing extreme emotional and physical disturbances in prepubescent human males. It is now known that Speculonatis omnes, or SNO, is a pseudobacterium that exists in nature as dormant, individual cells and is found exclusively in cold climates.
According to Oswald et al., SNO is able to infect its host through the S-cones in the human eye, whereupon it colonizes the retinal ganglion cells and migrates along the optic nerve to the brain. If the organism detects sufficiently low levels of serotonin through the KayR receptor on its surface, it begins producing chemotactic and cell cycle factors that allow individual SNO particles to leave the body and coalesce into a multicellular, animated form (“SNO-man”). Once it reaches a critical mass, the SNO-man appears to display a low-level sentience. It is currently unclear how this occurs, although it has been hypothesized that the SNO-man can intercept signals from the host thalamus, which regulates consciousness and motor control, as early SNO-men “reflect” the thoughts of the human host. In the advanced stages of infection, the SNO-man is able to think and move independently, at which point the host is discarded.
In all known cases, interaction with SNO causes the human host to withdraw from society and prolonged exposure can result in violent misanthropy (see the review by S. Ebenezer on pg. 26). Fortunately, infection with SNO is rare and most cases dissipate quickly as children are re-integrated into the social group. Induced erythema (see Clinical Reports) may be the key to treatment for individuals in the more advanced stages.
The North Arctic Journal of Medicine. 12: 24-25 (2015).
Latest posts by Kieran Manion (see all)
- Buck Up or Get Out: U of T’s New Mandatory Leave Policy Sends the Wrong Message about Mental Health - July 20, 2018
- alcohol // academia - July 20, 2018
- Benchmarking IMMpress – Year 5 - April 2, 2018