With the redesign of my web site, I’m starting to import blog posts from The Loom (and elsewhere). Please come back soon to see it in all its reconstituted glory!
After a long stretch of quiet here on the Loom, I wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to, and what I’m going to be up to over the next couple years. I’ve got some new projects afoot.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is an incredibly rare disease, striking just one out of every two million people. It’s also an incredibly astonishing disease. A single mutation to a single gene causes muscles to spontaneously turn into new bones. Over time, people with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP for short) grow a second skeleton–one that can cut their lives short.
I wrote about FOP in “The Girl Who Turned to Bone” in the Atlantic in 2013. At the time, FOP served as a microcosm for the struggles of people with rare diseases. (In the United States, almost 30 million people have rare diseases of one kind or another.) Continue reading “Fighting the Second Skeleton”
Parasites may seem too gross or too wicked to be worth saving from extinction. Or they may just seem so skilled in their sinister arts that we don’t have to worry about them, since they’ll always find a new victim.
In fact, parasites warrant our concern, right along with their hosts. That’s not to say that we’d better off if smallpox or rinderpest were still running wild. But letting parasites hurtle into oblivion due to our ecological recklessness is a bad idea.
Here’s a case in point: The World Wildlife Fund has just drawn attention to a parasitic wasp, Ampulex dementor, that makes cockroaches its zombified victims. The wasp was found in 2007 in Thailand, and in 2014 a German museum held a contest to give it a species name. Museum goers voted to name it after the soul-sucking dementors in the Harry Potter series.
In May 2010, a whale showed up on the wrong side of the world.
A team of marine biologists was conducting a survey off the coast of Israel when they spotted it. At first they thought it was a sperm whale. But each time the animal surfaced, the more clearly they could see that it had the wrong anatomy. When they got back on land, they looked closely at the photographs they had taken and realized, to their shock, that it was a gray whale. This species is a common sight off the coast of California, but biologists had never seen one outside of the Pacific before.
Aviad Scheinin, one of the marine biologists on the survey, posted the news on the web. “Nice Photoshopping,” someone replied.
Three weeks later, Scheinin got one more bit of news about the whale. It was photographed off the coast of Spain, having traveled 1864 miles. Then it disappeared.