Sunday, January 04, 2009


For my first post, I'm sharing some news about my favorite microbe: the Ebola virus.

Today I came across a statement that there is a current outbreak in the Congo. Read more on the World Health Organization's website:

Closely related to Marburg, Ebola has 4 subtypes: Ebola Sudan, Ebola Zaire, Ebola Reston. Also, a quick google search comes up with Ebola Ivory Coast as well, though I haven't heard about this before and will need to do some research on it. These are types of filoviruses that are level 4 pathogens and if infected, the death rate among victims is 50 to 90 percent. Yikes! According to Hot Zone by Richard Preston, Malaria is considered highly lethal, as it kills 1 in 20 people. Ebola kills 9 in 10.

When Ebola enters the body, it immediately replicates, destroys the body's cells and liquifies internal organs. Connective tissue dissolves, and pretty soon you've got a violent, awful mess. Maybe that's where inspiration for some horror movies came from.

While terrible, the virus, like all organisms, has some ecological purpose. Preston states that outbreaks come as a consequence of the ruin of the tropical biosphere.

He states, "The emerging viruses are surfacing from ecologically damaged parts of the earth. Many of them come from the tattered edges of tropical rain forests, or they come from tropical savanna that is being settled rapidly by people. The tropical rain forests are the deep reservoirs of life on the planet, containing most of the world's plant and animal species. The rain forests are also its largest reservoirs of viruses, since all living things carry viruses. When viruses come out of an ecosystem, they tend to spread in waves through the human population, like echoes from a dying biosphere."

Preston goes on to say, "In a sense, the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species. It is beginning to react to the human parasite, the flooding infection of people, the dead spots of concrete all over the planet, the cancerous rot-outs in Europe, Japan, and the United States, thick with replicating primates, the colonies enlarging and spreading and threatening to shock the biosphere with mass extinctions. Perhaps the biosphere does not "like" the idea of five billion humans. Or it could also be said that the extreme amplification of the human race, which has occurred only in the past hundred years or so, has suddenly produced a very large quantity of meat, which is sitting everywhere in the biosphere and may not be able to defend itself against a life form that might want to consume it. Nature has interesting ways of balancing itself. The rain forest has its own defenses. The earth's immune system, so to speak, has recognized the presence of the human species and is starting to kick in. The earth is attempting to rid itself of an infection by the human parasite."

Sigh. That's intense.

Ebola. Horrifying, beautiful, violent, amazing, shocking, powerful, bloody brilliant. Below is a great photograph of Ebola Zaire, taken by Dr. F.A. Murphy in 1976. This is supposedly the first photo taken of the Ebola virus, and it is an electron micrograph at 160,000 x magnification. I'd like to do some acrylic paintings of this. The curves, or "shepherd's crook" gracefully loop and are balanced by the long strand. This photo also shows wonderful contrast between dark and light. I love when science and art come together.

If all the blood and gore and talk of humans being parasites hasn't warmed you up to this little guy, maybe this will:

Giant microbes is a company that makes viruses, bacteria, and other small organisms in plush form. That's right! You can have your own cuddly Ebola. So far I own flesh eating (with a fork and knife embroidered right on it, so you know it means business), rhinovirus (the common cold), and fat cell (I use that one as inspiration when I work out, and I make sure to keep it separated from flesh eating). I'm waiting until my birthday in February, and then if no one has bought the furry thing for me I'm getting it myself. YAY! Soon I'll have a friend sleeping next to my face at night.

Let's hope it doesn't begin to replicate....

1 comment:

  1. kudos to you on your first post being about ebola! very informative and you pulled it all back around to art. truly amazing (no sarcasm. seriously i was amazed.)
    and that IS a wonderful microscopic form! really beautiful. there is a nice duality to that (and the post).