Wednesday 3 November 2021

In the field

Research is quite fractal, science can reveal 

  • width of the known Universe [= 46.5 billion light years this week, more next month]
  • the length of human chromosome 21 [= 48 million bases]
  • life the Universe and everything [=42]
Biblical scholars have a rather finite universe: 588,258 words, according the the KJV. This is about a quarter of the content of The Blob and so makes an easier specialist topic on Mastermind. In the best of all possible worlds, scholars should be free to devote their cogitations and experiments to whatever they think is an appropriate use of their time . . . not what Boris Johnson, Senator Bill Langer, Dick Cheney or Willie Whitelaw believes is the best use of a government pay-cheque.

What's not to love about a paper entitled "No time to die: An in-depth analysis of James Bond's exposure to infectious agents", published this year in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. The three authors, all expert epidemiologists from Nijmegen and London,  watched 25 Eon-produced films released between 1962 and 2021 (∼3113 min of evening hours per author that were not-spent on more pressing societal issues or forms of relaxation that are more acceptable in academic circles). From these data they abstracted 86 James Bond 007 adventures that involved foreign travel.

The lowlights of these escapades include: "Food safety also appears to take a backseat to Bond's appetites. He regularly eats unwashed fruit . . . fails to wash his hands, neglecting both the risk of bacterial infection and the lack of toilet facilities during the ensuing boat chase . . . unhealthy when it comes to his level of alcohol consumption . . . drinking straight from a field-drain in Egypt". 

They conclude that Bond's death-wish risk-taking is consistent with infection by Toxoplasma gondii caught from Blofeld's cat. Toxoplasma has been associated with changes in behaviour in mice and humans which make it more like that the carrier will be gobbled up by a predator and complete the life-cycle of the parasite. 

I imply that those lowlights are clipped from the original paper, and they are, except for the last one. I made that one up from the sagas of another friend of mine who, as a PhD student in the early 1990s, was sent out to the Developing World to bleed cattle, sheep and goats, capture their DNA and discover previously uncertain evidence about the process of domestication. This is the same bloke who blagged the elderly Treasurer of Prestigious University to sign off a wodge of folding money from a government grant as cash under the line-item 6.3.1 Bribes. Tales came back of what this chap was prepared to eat and where he was prepared to sleep, which boggled the mind of us bacon-and-cabbage stay-at-homes. A couple of times, a few days after returning home, he was checked into the Cherry Orchard Fever Hospital in Ballyfermot for observation and flush-through of a wild variety of bacterial and protozoan parasites. As they say, what kills not, fattens and he's now MD of a biotech company valued last year at €50 million. So the risk of setting up and growing a small campus company paid off!

 eeee, y'have to larf.  

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