Skip to main content

You never travel Alone!

Travelling alone. Image credit.
If you are quite the traveller who likes visiting different countries and posting Instagram pictures of historic sites and tourist places you have been to, this is the probably the right time to tell you this


Well, this is not about some stalker following you or the government that keeps an eye on each and every one of us. Instead, this is about the unknown baggage you are carrying with you while you are criss crossing continents in the comfort of an aircraft, viz., the many many bacteria and fungal spores and the microscopic creatures such as house mites.

The Finding 

In a recent study published by researcher Rubaba Hamid Shafique and her colleagues from the Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agricultural University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and University of Michigan, USA, the researchers studied two house mite populations from these two countries. On sequencing small parts of their genome, the researchers found these organisms had quite a few things that were common in their genome sequences. 

The Explanation 

House dust mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinu...
House dust mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ideally speaking sequencing should reveal that the sequence of nucleotide bases (building block of genome) for a specific region are the same. This is especially true if one is sequencing conserved regions of the genome, which are basically regions of the genome that code for proteins that are common across organisms. (This is another proof that we have all come from a common ancestor, something that could be discussed in another post on another day). 

What Rubaba Hamid and her colleagues found was that not only did these organisms had matching sequences, they even had matching mutations. Now, mutations in a population are random events. So, if a house mite population develops a mutation at say nucleotide position 10, then the chance that another house mite population in the United States at the same nucleotide position in extremely rare. However, what the study goes to say is that the author found such mutations in not one not two but 14 spots in the small bit of genome that she was looking at. Not only this, the sequence and the mutations therein found for house mite populations in Pakistan, exactly matched those that were reported in house mite populations in Thailand and China. 

Such similarities in the genome can occur, if and only if, house mite population from these countries have met each other before and mated to produce offsprings that carry their mutations. Since house mites are not capable of finding love internationally all by themselves, the authors say that it is obvious that are piggy backing our back packs as we travel. While these little beings are happy to hide in the sofas and mattresses for most part of their lives, a few of them are adventurous enough to make that extra effort to get into our travel clothes and end up in another country without any visa. Knowingly or unknowingly, these mites are capable of using man made technologies for their own benefit, progress and spreading themselves out in the world. 

Although it might seem a trivial thing at the outset, the issue of travelling microbes is quite serious and a major impediment in the global health care scenario. The recent scare of Ebola and its rapid spread over many nations is primarily due to the rapid means of transport available today and the frequency with which people travel for business or pleasure. 

So, the next time you take a flight to Hawaii or Switzerland for a vacation, do give a thought to what might be carrying from back and what you might be bringing back. 


Shafique RH, Klimov PB, Inam M, Chaudhary FR, & OConnor BM (2014). Group 1 Allergen Genes in Two Species of House Dust Mites, Dermatophagoides farinae and D. pteronyssinus (Acari: Pyroglyphidae): Direct Sequencing, Characterization and Polymorphism. PloS one, 9 (12) PMID: 25494056


Popular posts from this blog

Do free energy magnetic motors really work?

The internet is rife with websites that promote generators that are capable of providing electricity without using any fuel. Built largely with magnets, these 'free energy generators' promise to cut your electricity bills and provide a much greener alternative to the electricity that is largely generated out of fossil fuels. Elaborate videos that give you estimates of how much money you can save without revealing any details of how to go about it, manage to keep the audience hooked on for a while, but $40 price tag, the loads of freebies and the instant $10 discount for not leaving the page, make the product and its seller highly suspicious. So, we decided to find out if these free energy magnetic motors really work?

The Principle

The magnetic motor works on the simple principle that we all already know, 'Like poles repel each other while opposite poles attract each other'. By arranging the magnets in a fashion where only like poles face each other, one can simply set t…

Why Sci-Hub’s story is so crucial to science?

On the 28th of October 2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared that the website be blocked with immediate effect and managed to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
What should be a simple means to communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
What Judge Sweet termed as a “disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org, started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research …

Generating electricity from flapping tree leaves

As kids, you might have spent many afternoons, under a huge tree, enjoying its shade. In a tropical country like India, trees are a welcome sight in the month of May, when the sun is blazing in the sky and the shade offered by them is a hundred thousand times better than artificial cooling of the air conditioning units. But never in our dream would we have thought that the rustling of the tiny leaves of the trees could one day make electricity for us.Because that requires a Hendersonian moment! (just in a bit)

This brilliant idea has come from the lab of a biophysicist at Iowa State University, Dr. Michael McCloskey, whose work at the University largely involves the study of membrane transport in algae and adult born neurons but also has a background in plant sciences. It was his colleague in the department of genetics, Dr. Eric Henderson who first came up with this plan of harvesting energy from leaves as he wondered how much kinetic energy was being generated when winds blow across l…

5 things driverless cars will do to change our future?

The race for building the world’s first commercially available driverless car is on. Google seems to be leading the pack and in its own charismatic style has been very open about it. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered the second best with their cars having almost automated the driving process. Tech favourites, Apple also seem to be in the race but everything is under wraps, as of now, and there is not even a hint of what Apple is planning to make, the car, the software or simply make the car accessible with your Apple ID.
Once part of science fiction, driverless cars will soon be a part of our lives and with major automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford investing in the technology, prototypes of driverless cars will soon be seen on the roads. Before we get there, a quick review.
The Driverless car
The concept of automated driving has been around for close to a century but progress was slow due to unavailability of technology. For a car to be autonomous, it needs to kno…

Solar cells that work in rain

In case you have read my last month’s guest post about harvesting solar energy in rust, you would be delighted to know that there has been yet another breakthrough in our attempt to harness solar energy.  For many years, solar energy has been targeted for being unavailable at night and during rains. The problem of utilizing solar energy at night can be resolved with the help of metal oxide cells as elaborated in my above post (do read it, if you have not done so already). And now researchers at the Ocean University in China have addressed the second problem and developed solar cells that can actually use rain drops to generate electricity.
Published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper titled, A Solar Cell Triggered by Sun and Rain, opens a new realm of possibilities when harnessing solar energy. Coating the solar cell with a thin film of graphene allows the cell to function even when it is raining. Graphene is nothing but reduced form of graphite that consists of a hone…