Biology Thought Of The Day: Spooooon!!

Science-DistillationIt doesn't seem that you can go a day or two without hearing about the latest in the fight on Ebola, and by all means it is a fairly horrible virus with a obscenely high mortality rate. But what if there was something out there which could instantly turn your diet on its head? Enter the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Most folks are well to familiar with some of the more common diseases that ticks can carry (Rocky Mountain Spot...ted Fever and Lyme disease), but this one isn't a disease per se, but rather triggers an immune response within people.

When a tick bites a person, it attaches to a person by inserting its needle-like mouth into the skin, and securing it in place with a biological glue. One of the substances that the tick produces as part of this glue is alpha-galactosidase ("Alpha-Gal", Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose). Most red meats contain this sugar, but the typical ingestion process digests the sugar in the stomach without any side effects. However, when the tick secretes the sugar into the blood stream, the body views this as a foreign substance and creates antibodies against it. Now, the next time a person is exposed to the sugar, regardless if it is through the stomach, the bodies natural defense system takes over and the person will suffer an allergic reaction.

Making things more difficult, is that there may be some delay between the ingestion of meat and the allergic reaction, making it even more difficult to associate the cause and effect. Although over time the allergic reaction may diminish, repeated exposure to the sugar (or even subsequent tick bites) will actually bolster the antibodies.

As these super disease and fauna are taking over, if only we had a band of superheroes that could save the world from infection and allergies. If I do become a forced pseudo-vegetarian, at least one course of treatment that I am going to try is to listen to Johann Strauss operas about bats... or minimally try some shiny metal justice.


  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Red meat allergies likely result of lone star tick." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2014

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