Parasitic Comedy with Alanta Colley

  Last updated May 18, 2017 at 11:32 am

Topics:  

You know those days where you feel like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders? Well, in reality that’s every day. We carry around 200 grams of bacteria on our skin and in our bodies. When you think of how small bacteria are, that’s a whole lot of small critters that go through our lives with us.


This mini world of bacteria is unique to each of us, with some having complicated relationships with our bodies. Some bacteria that live within us are parasitic, but they may not always make us sick. Parasites are organisms who live off draining nutrients from their hosts. Apart from bacteria, parasites can be insects, fungi, molluscs, snails and worms just to name a few.


Alanta Colley has lots of experience with parasitic organisms – some more intimately than others – through her work in Australian Indigenous communities, and travels with the United Nations.


We had a chat with Alanta about her science around the world, bringing science in to comedy and the life cycle of the guinea-worm.


Your career in public health has lead you to be quite familiar with some rare and interesting parasites, do you have a favourite?


My favourite parasite is Toxoplasma gondii. It’s a parasitic infection that starts off in rats; epigenetically (modifying gene expression to) manipulating their behaviour to reduce their aversion to cats. This means it increases the likelihood of the rat being captured by a cat, thus successfully transferring T. gondii to the cat, where it can complete its life cycle! Humans then often contract it from their cat. There is some scientific evidence that humans with the parasite have increased risk-taking behaviours! So that mad friend of yours who keeps insisting on pulling crazy stunts may just be a carrier of toxoplasma!


Wow, that’s cool, I’ll have to keep that in mind for my next good excuse. So if Toxoplasma gondii is your favourite parasite, do you have one you’ve been sick with that was really awful, or a least favourite parasite?  


Ooh, there’s some stiff competition for the most awful parasite. I’ll go with the Bot Fly. The Bot fly lays eggs on its host, then the warmth of a mammal stimulates the larvae to hatch and crawl into the skin, leaving a breathing hole. It then develops spines as it grows in the skin tissue. When they finish larval stage they’ll emerge from the hole. If a human tries to squeeze it out or ruptures the larvae the insect’s fluids can cause anaphylactic shock. There are inspiringly awful clips on Youtube of unlucky people having botfly larvae removed from their scalp and other places.


I think I can confidently say that I will take your word for how awful it is and avoid that part of Youtube. Thankfully they live in South and Central America so we’re safe in Australia. 


On the topic of travelling, through your work with the United Nations and Engineers without borders you’ve been to Cambodia, Timor, Eastern Uganda and spent time with Australian Indigenous groups. How different have you found attitudes towards science and medicine around the world?


If science is the process of experiment, observation, and repetition, cultures around the world all possess their own scientific knowledge, though that knowledge might be captured in stories, philosophy or biological mapping very different from western models. For that reason, it is very important to have dialogue over different models of thinking. For example, the first line of treatment of plasmodium falciparum (the malarial strain responsible for cerebral malaria) is artemisinin combination therapy; containing the herb artemether, which has been used in China for hundreds of years to treat malaria. It has saved my life twice. That said continuously building an evidence base for the efficacy (or lack thereof) of different treatments is crucial.


That’s a very valid point, western science can have an elitist exclusivity to how science should be presented. If you don’t publish in high-ranking journals like Nature or Science the implication is that your research isn’t as valid.


Attitudes vary around the world to medicine. For many communities in rural areas, a friend or family member got sick, then went to the hospital, then died. The conclusion some reach from this is that the hospital killed them, as opposed to the patient presenting so late in their illness they could not be treated. It then becomes tricky to encourage people to seek treatment. Problems in medicine supply chains mean the medications are often not available when people arrive at a clinic, further discouraging people. Sometimes government-supplied drugs are being siphoned off to private clinics.


I can see how this would discourage people to seek medical help.


Traditional belief systems are very strong around the world, and traditional birth attendants and healers are still the first line of help many people go to. Quite a number of countries have responded to this by trying to ban traditional practitioners; though from what I can see the best approach has been to include traditional birth attendants and healers in health training, empowering them to know when to refer their clients to health services.


For example, by training traditional birth attendants about HIV, there’s been a reduction in cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV during birth. Traditional birth attendants often have a depth of reach into the community other health services can’t achieve, so by training them to be able to guide new mothers in what might be normal and abnormal post-partum bleeding, lives can be saved.


So the focus for outside organisations should be on merging traditional and modern techniques and medicine rather than preaching?


For many in rural communities, navigating what is true and what is not true is very difficult and complicated. Westerners often represent colonizers. Then the next wave of westerners were missionaries. Then the next wave health educators. The missionaries demanded people believe in a God. Then health educators demanded people believe in microbes. Neither of which is visible to the naked eye. Health educators preach the use of condoms; church leaders tell people it’s a sin. Traditional beliefs preach the importance of having big families. Most rural communities have a tough job navigating all of these mixed messages. And there’s plenty of reasons not to trust outsiders and their agendas.


It’s still such a complicated issue which will take many more years to change.


Science has a reputation of being a serious and boring topic. You’ve written and are performing a comedy show at the Adelaide Fringe. What drew you to comedy and science comedy?


I’ve loved comedy my whole life, particularly any comedy that teaches me something or gives me a new perspective on life. I also admit there’s a certain pleasure in watching an audience recoil in horror as you discuss some of the most awful aspects of the lifecycle of a guinea-worm. People have a morbid fascination with the disgusting. And laughter? Well sometimes laughing is the only thing we do when do when things go pear shaped. Laughter is assuredly a human survival mechanism. I hope my many misadventures can provide people a little bit of a giggle. That would indeed make all that time on the toilet worthwhile.


Alanta Colley is performing her science-comedy show Parasites Lost! at the Adelaide Fringe on the 17th and 18th of February at the Science Exchange. Tickets via FRINGETIX here.


Did you like this blog? Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to get all the latest science.




About the Author

Kate Luders
Kate is a recent BSc, Microbiology Honours graduate who is actually nerdy enough that she likes learning new things, just for the sake of learning. She loves bright lipstick, sequins, and will probably interrupt the conversation to point out a dog. She has high hopes one day to appropriately use her inside voice and to continue to bore people with bad jokes and fun facts.

Published By

Science and technology is as much a part of our cultural fabric as art, music, theatre and literature. They play a significant role in our daily lives, yet, in a world dependent on science, we often take them for granted. Australia’s Science Channel believes every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to be informed, and our mission is to create programs to bring that about.


Featured Videos

Placeholder
Lessons from an astronaut: "We have to teach students how to fail"
Placeholder
SCINEMA 2020 opens with new Indigenous filmmaking award
Placeholder
How technology is changing the future of cancer treatment in Australia
Placeholder
Sean Geoghegan - Meet a Medical Physicist
Placeholder
Bringing Japan's breakthrough cancer technology to Australia
Placeholder
Columbia: NASA blew it
Placeholder
The Face of a Stranger
Placeholder
Where Does Space Begin?
Placeholder
The Rarest Drug on Earth
Placeholder
Why is blue so rare in nature
Placeholder
Ant Sisters
Placeholder
Jeremy the Lefty Snail and Other Asymmetrical Animals
Placeholder
Tracking Snow
Placeholder
Smart Slime?
Placeholder
Good in the machine
Placeholder
Kessler Syndrome: What happens when satellites collide?
Placeholder
Why This Skateboarding Trick Should Be Impossible
Placeholder
Charles Camarda on becoming an astronaut
Placeholder
Alan Duffy on what it took to get humans to the Moon
Placeholder
Do aliens exist? Brian Cox explains
Placeholder
From Apollo to Pulsars: Parkes still dishing out the discoveries
Placeholder
Brian Cox on black holes
Placeholder
Australia's 60,000 years of space history
Placeholder
In Class With… Jane Goodall
Placeholder
Etienne Rastoin-Laplane - What's fishy about the Galapagos?
Placeholder
Kit Prendergast - Flowers to keep native bees buzzing
Placeholder
Rebecca Wellard - Eavesdropping on killer whales
Placeholder
Hossein Tavassoli - Mending broken hearts
Placeholder
Dilan Seckiner - Forensic gait analysis
Placeholder
Samuel Bladwell - A new spin on electronics
Placeholder
Sathana Dushyanthen - The double-edged cancer sword
Placeholder
Dwan Price - Nuts and Guts
Placeholder
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson - Exercise takes your immune system for a ride
Placeholder
Thimo Ruethers - The deadly danger of crocs on a plate
Placeholder
Amanda Tauber - Slamming the brakes on metastatic cancer
Placeholder
Hayley Teasdale – The ball that prevents falls (FameLab Australia 2019 Runner-up)
Placeholder
In the Shadow of a Black Hole
Placeholder
In Class With... Monica Gagliano
Placeholder
In Class With... Brian Cox
Placeholder
Start your FameLab 2019 journey now
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Grassroots
Placeholder
What is machine learning?
Placeholder
Mythbusting artificial intelligence with expert Anton van den Hengel
Placeholder
Using machine learning to predict medical outcomes
Placeholder
KCLOC
Placeholder
Nature Calls
Placeholder
Mexican Fishing Bats
Placeholder
Bittersweet
Placeholder
Timelapse
Placeholder
Invisible Blanket
Placeholder
Look
Placeholder
The Anomalies: Venom Race
Placeholder
Science Meets Making
Placeholder
Spiral
Placeholder
Looking Out There
Placeholder
Protectors of the Penguins
Placeholder
Astroturf
Placeholder
Virtual Humans
Placeholder
Rancheros del Jaguar
Placeholder
Searching For Dark Matter
Placeholder
Finding prehistoric mega-shark fossils on Victoria's coast
Placeholder
The Grandfather of computers
Placeholder
James Cameron talks science
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - The Environment
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - Career
Placeholder
Sustainable water use with Doug Green
Placeholder
Why is Indigenous science important?
Placeholder
Vanessa Pirotta - Using drones to collect whale snot (FameLab Australia 2018 Winner)
Placeholder
Toby Hendy - Poking Plants (FameLab Australia 2018 Runner-Up)
Placeholder
Muthu Vignesh Vellayappan - Groovy Patches (FameLab Australia 2018 Audience Choice)
Placeholder
Taryn Laubenstein - The Tail of Two Fishes
Placeholder
Richard Charlesworth - Coeliac disease diagnosis can be a pain in the posterior
Placeholder
Pegah Maasoumi - Solar Windows
Placeholder
James Wong - Breathing while you hop: How do kangaroos do it?
Placeholder
Ben McAllister - The ORGAN Experiment: Shining a light on dark matter
Placeholder
Mortaza Rezae - Empowering beautiful minds
Placeholder
Zane Stromberga - Can allergy drugs beat bladder disease?
Placeholder
Working In.....Art - Astrophotography
Placeholder
What's the best way to move - springs or muscles?
Placeholder
FameLab Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Saving lives with platypus milk
Placeholder
Australian astronomers witness death throes of a cocooned star
Placeholder
How Australia's politicians see our future in space
Placeholder
Keeping satellites in the loop
Placeholder
Tim Flannery talks about COP
Placeholder
Tim Jarvis & Tim Flannery talk Climate Change
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - robo baby, university rankings, and cancer on circadian rhythms
Placeholder
From chocolate factory to surgery - the milliDelta robot
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science: video games, low tech transition windows and a new CRISPR technique
Placeholder
Science lessons useful in Art Restoration career
Placeholder
Are drones the future of racing?
Placeholder
The future of esports according to the experts
Placeholder
Seeing is believing with artist Eugenie Lee
Placeholder
The human impact of Art Science collaboration
Placeholder
Follow your Interests in Robotics
Placeholder
Zoz on 3D Printing
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on women in engineering
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on the future of the internet
Placeholder
Explore the ocean floor and Antarctic biodiversity
Placeholder
Follow your interests in Medical Research
Placeholder
Artists on Science
Placeholder
What is Space Archaeology?
Placeholder
Follow your Interests
Placeholder
Scientists on Art
Placeholder
3D Printing in Medical Research
Placeholder
Ethical Issues
Placeholder
Problem Solving - Robotics at Dermatec
Placeholder
Problem Solving with CSI
Placeholder
Tamarah King - Earthquake Geologist
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo and Rad BONUS ROUND
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo & Rad
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Cats vs Dogs
Placeholder
FameLab 2018 - Get Involved!
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Alan Duffy's Top 5 Science Communication Tips
Placeholder
A Judge's Top Tips for FameLab Australia
Placeholder
Brain Candy - Why, Why, Why Michael Stevens?
Placeholder
The Past, Present, and Future of Malaria
Placeholder
This is a video of poo pills being made!
Placeholder
Mind Games - Sports Psychology
Placeholder
Fuel to Win - Sports Nutrition
Placeholder
Fifty years since Australia beat the world to space
Placeholder
ECR Network: Talk Your Science with Alan Duffy
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - chimps, klompen, and clouds
Placeholder
Our robot medicine future - heart huggers and micro biohybrids
Placeholder
Six Awkward Cancer Questions
Placeholder
How do you tell if a whale is left-handed?
Placeholder
She Flies - Turning Girls into Drone Pilots
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Magnetic Fabric, Cancer Treatments, and Echolocation
Placeholder
The Science of Sexuality
Placeholder
Sailing Through Space with Bill Nye
Placeholder
Using Sports Science to Help Olympic Athletes
Placeholder
Three and a Half Minutes of Top Shelf Career Advice
Placeholder
New Space Tech with Andrea Boyd
Placeholder
Kelly Meets the Mars Curiosity Rover
Placeholder
Hearts, Opera, and Tough Conversations - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Bill Nye on Science, Girls, and Saving the World!
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 2
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 1
Placeholder
Who Decides the Law in Space?
Placeholder
Scientists Watch Collision That Created Gravitational Waves
Placeholder
Getting Cold Feet Leads to a Whole New Career
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be on Twitter - The Benefits
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be On Twitter - The Fears
Placeholder
Live Podcast - Life Vs Science
Placeholder
Origami Robots, Babies, and Kidneys - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Namira Salim and the Zero-G Peace Summit
Placeholder
Elon Musk's Mars Plan: Expert Analysis
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Thursday
Placeholder
My Time in Space
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily Broadcast - Wednesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Wednesday
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily broadcast - Tuesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Tuesday
Placeholder
IAC TV daily broadcast - Monday
01:00:41
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Monday
Placeholder
Live from IAC 2017
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Technology Rewrites History
Placeholder
Methamphetamine - Gateway Drug to Parkinson's Disease
Placeholder
Concussion, 3D BioPrinting, and The Universe - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Pulsars, Clearwigs, and Pacemakers - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Revolutions - The Quest to Transform HPV Racing
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Hurricane Irma Blows Away Tesla's Rip Off
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Limit of Your Lifespan
Placeholder
The Recipient
Placeholder
Think Like a Scientist: Natural Selection in an Outbreak
Placeholder
The End of Snow
Placeholder
The Next Rembrandt
Placeholder
The Discarded
Placeholder
The Spectators
Placeholder
Test Tube Babes
Placeholder
Pangolins in Peril- A Story of Rare Scales
Placeholder
Rock Art Project
Placeholder
Pork.0
Placeholder
OWSIA (Darkened Water)
Placeholder
Nex
Placeholder
Northern Quolls
Placeholder
Dish Life
Placeholder
At Street Level
Placeholder
Custom Love
Placeholder
Adrift
Placeholder
A Story from Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Most Dangerous Thing in Boxing May Be the Gloves
Placeholder
ECR Network 2017 – Get Interdisciplinary!
01:27:00
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: The Future of Space Exploration
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life After Space
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life in Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Let's Make Algae Australian of the Year
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia's Energy Showdown
Placeholder
Nine Awkward Astrophysicist Questions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - There's No Such Thing as an Exercise Pill
Placeholder
National Science Week Awards Show
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Your 5 Step Asteroid Success Plan
Placeholder
National Science Week Forecast
Placeholder
Open Doors. Open Future. Open Day.
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Lose a Little to Gain Millions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowd Sourcing Origami Astronaut Protection
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - T-Rex's Prehistoric Power Walk
Placeholder
True or False with Kale Brock
Placeholder
The Grandfather Paradox
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Hidden Heroes Tackling Mozzies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Emergency AI Assistance
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Frogs Forever, Dinosaurs Never!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia, Let's Go To Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Welcome to the Microbiome, Archaea!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Roos Blindside Driverless Cars
Placeholder
Biodiversity of Antarctica Under Threat From Increase In Ice-Free Areas
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Future of the Census
Placeholder
Tell Me! Brian Cox
Placeholder
Crash, Burn, Tweak, Repeat
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Humans Just Got Older and Wiser
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Cheers to Brain Health?
Placeholder
Gene Therapy Could Cure Allergies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - iHeart Hacking
Placeholder
Ridiculology - New Hubble
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Trees Alone Can't Save Us
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Earth's Accidental Force Field
Placeholder
Dinosaurs on the Big Screen
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Farewell MP3
Placeholder
Kids Beat Grown-ups on Pneumonia Vaccines
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Booger Conspiracy
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 2
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 1
Placeholder
2017 Budget Response
Placeholder
What Are Animal Weapons?
Placeholder
If You Love Both Art and Science, Be a Scientific Illustrator
Placeholder
Getting Personal With Skinks
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - CSIRO Email Leaks
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Western Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Hope for Premmies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Britain Goes Coal-Free
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Naked Mole-Rats (SFW)
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Easter Reminders
Placeholder
Meet Andrea Boyd - Space Flight Controller
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Sperm Drug Smugglers
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 New South Wales Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
The Science of Fiction
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Liquorice Poisoning
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowdsourcing Science
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Queensland Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - SpaceX Preps for Relaunch
Placeholder
Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome Breakthrough
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Surviving a Media Storm