THERE has been a popular outbreak of parasites around Canberra over recent weeks as the Australian Society for Parasitology ramps up to National Science Week with a series of exhibitions and lectures around the city.
The society says parasites are normally thought of as disgusting and regarded as an aberration but, in fact, the parasitic way of life is the most common way of life on the planet.
They are the most ingenious and manipulative of all life forms and possess a strange beauty, as these photos, taken by scientists who study parasites, show.
They are a part of everyone’s life – they infect our pets, the meat and crops we eat, and us.
They also infect our marsupial wildlife and the fish in our oceans and reefs, sometimes with devastating consequences.
“Parasites are fascinating because of their intimate relationship to their host, which is a continual balance between life and death for both the host and parasite,” says Prof David Ferguson, parasitologist and electron microscopist, from Oxford University.
Parasites are usually defined as organisms that live in or on another organism (the hosts) and often causes them harm.
Well-known examples of parasites include tapeworms, roundworms, ticks and fleas. Human diseases such as malaria, bilharzia, elephantiasis and sleeping sickness are all caused by parasites.
By understanding the ways of parasites, scientists can find new ways to control malaria, human hookworms, schistosomes, and veterinary parasites. If they are successful, the lives of millions of people will be saved, their crops and livestock will be more productive and the impact on reducing poverty in the Third World will be immense.
To get up close and personal with parasites, the CSIRO Discovery Centre, North Science Road, Acton, is exhibiting “Parasites in Focus”, weekdays, until August 1. Entry is free.
PARASITES have been affecting soldiers for centuries in times of war and peace and ANU scientist Dr Rowena Martin will describe some of the devastating effects caused by the malaria parasite with an address titled “Malaria in Wartime” at the Australian War Memorial Lecture Theatre, from 2pm on Sunday, August 17.
And look out for more parasites during National Science Week at “Science in ACTion”, which will run from August 15-17 at the Melville Hall, ANU.
More information at parasite.org.au/