An Explanation From the Scientist Behind That Cat Poop Cancer Treatment
In a scientific discovery at Dartmouth recently hailed as “highly shareable” by the internet, cat poop is being mentioned in connection with a newly discovered potential cancer treatment.
Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite found in the guts of cats, has been used in a lab to treat cancer. It might, after enough testing turn out to be a viable cancer therapy. However, toxoplasma is a strange, shape-shifting organism, and the kind cats poop out won’t shrink your tumors one bit. Still, Dartmouth recently publicized the very promising discovery: A modified version of toxoplasma, when injected into mice with certain kinds of cancer, switched on an immune response that the cancer had deactivated, which then allowed the body to fight the disease itself.
David J. Bzik, Ph.D. of Dartmouth’s Geisel Medical School has been experimenting with toxoplasma for at least a decade. He says the discovery that an altered form of the parasite might cure cancer is a big deal, but that toxoplama is weird and wonderful microbe that still has surprises in store for humanity, none of which involved ingesting cat poop by any stretch of the imagination.
He also schooled me on some interesting trivia I thought I knew about toxoplasma. What follows is an edited version of my conversation with him.
Via Flickr user Yale Rosen
I’m reading a lot of headlines about cat poop curing cancer.
Oh of course. They’re sensationalist.
What should they be reporting?
We developed this strain of toxoplasma that doesn’t replicate.
Could you remind us what toxoplasma is?
It’s a protozoan. Its closest relative is malaria, it’s in the same phylum.
And what happens when it can’t reproduce?
It doesn’t cause disease in mice. It’s a great vaccine for toxoplasmosis [which], in AIDS patients is a really big disease. Also in cancer patients, when their immune systems are suppressed, they’re vulnerable to natural infections by toxoplasma. So having a vaccine is a good idea. This has not been tested as a vaccine yet in humans or cats, and we also haven’t tested the anti-cancer effects in humans either. This has all been mouse work.
Animals Can Consent to Sex with Humans, Claims Human Accused of Running Animal Brothel
In April 2010, ex-cocaine smuggler Douglas Spink briefly dominated headlines when police raided his property in Whatcom County, Washington. Inside, they found a Welsh tourist making use of what the press has since described as an animal brothel, replete with tail-less mice covered in Vaseline. Overnight, Spink became the poster boy for the bizarre, brutal world of bestiality.
But according to Spink and journalist Carreen Maloney—whose upcoming book, Uniquely Dangerous, deals with his case—that’s not quite how things went down. Maloney believes, based on court records, that the Vaseline mice, for instance, were a fabrication created by the local Humane Society, and Spink says the ordeal is a manifestation of a bigoted assault on him for being an outspoken defender of heterospecies relationships, sometimes known as zoophilia.
Spink doesn’t consider himself just another animal fucker. He describes himself as a counter-surveillance researcher (at Baneki Privacy Labs), a heterospecies writer and thinker, and species equality activist who cut his teeth in frontline direct action in the 1990s with Earth First.
VICE recently spoke to Spink, in the final stretch of his current sentence, about his views on heterospecies identity, zoophobic bigotry, and our revilement of inter-species intimacy as a natural result of human solipsism and aggressively ecocidal policies.
VICE: First off, are you OK with being called a zoophile, or do you use a different term?
Douglas Spink: I tend to use “heterospecies” rather than “zoophile.” I see it as the difference between calling someone a faggot and calling them gay.
I do not think that I’m terribly good as a categorical representative of heterospeciesists or any particular class. I’m a bit of an outlier, even in the communities where I feel most at home. A BASE-jumping, Chicago MBA-carrying, counter-surveillance tech-developing Asperger’s-diagnosed oddball. Proudly so.
I have chosen a path of dissent from the default zoophobic stance in our current social sphere, and as a result I’ve been targeted and imprisoned. It’s a thought crime issue, not an action-based issue. My words are considered criminal, and enormous effort has been expended to censor me.
Can you tell me how you first got engaged in heterospecies identities and issues?
I was raised in a horse-centric environment, having learned to ride at age two. I was (and am) able to empathetically understand things from the horse’s perspective. In biology class, I was presented with some counter-intuitive claims of “facts that were decidedly incongruent with what I knew from my firsthand immersion alongside equine companions, like “Animals were devoid of any interest in sex or sexuality, and bred purely based on instinct.”
As a young teenager, I was able to learn about the (then new) horrors of factory farming from nonprofits like PETA. I became a lifelong (if imperfect) vegetarian, and my interest in activist work in support of non-human wellbeing kicked into high gear. Bring those threads together, and you get the question of heterospecies relations between humans and nonhumans.
Humans Have a Long History of Eating Each Other
People who eat people are generally not considered “good people.” If you have any doubts, spend an afternoon searching the world wide web and peruse the “Cannibal Top Ten Lists,” which are occupied by the Milwaukee Monster Jeffrey Dahmer, Japanese exchange student Issei Sagawa, and child-killer Albert Fish. And news of the insane and psychopathic hits our home pages on the regular, such as the recent story of a hotel restaurant in Nigeria shut down by police for serving human flesh as an “expensive treat.”
The dispatches we have from a pre-internet era are no different. With the torch lit by Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century B.C., carried on by the likes of Captain Cook and his crewin the Pacific, and still not yet extinguished by those traveling through Africa in the early twentieth century, a significant portion of European history is dedicated to documenting encounters with the bloodthirsty man-eaters of the far corners of the globe.
Tinged with varying degrees of racism, many of these accounts are just xenophobic hearsay. A surprising number, however, have actually been verified as true.
Natural Insemination Is Tinder for People Who Want to Get Pregnant
Procreation is a pretty vital aspect of human existence. But tragically, not all of us are equipped to pollinate and populate, whether that’s because our junk doesn’t work right or because we can’t find anyone who wants to make a baby with us. Luckily, science has done what it was invented to do and created a number of methods to help prospective parents get around those problems—methods like IVF, artificial insemination (AI), and surrogate motherhood.
However, for those who find the concept of stepping into a hospital and walking out with a baby in their womb a little too abstract, there is a less traditional, 100 percent more tangible alternative: natural insemination (NI).
NI is exactly what it sounds like: sexual intercourse that’s supposed to result in a pregnancy, a.k.a. having sex to make a new human being. Only, instead of being the planned outcome of a relationship or accidental result of an awkward hookup, it’s facilitated by the internet and allows you to meet up with a complete stranger with the specific aim of making a baby. It’s sperm donation for the Tinder generation.
Sorry Religions, Human Consciousness Is Just a Consequence of Evolution
There’s a goofy neurological trick you can play on your brain that makes you feel like you have a super long nose. It’s called the Pinocchio Illusion and all you need to make it happen is a vibrator and a friend.
Here’s how it works. Person A closes her eyes and places the tip of her finger on her nose. Person B applies a buzzing vibrator to the tendon that connects the bicep to the inner side of the elbow of the arm that’s touching the nose. The vibration on the tendon stimulates the muscle fibers in such a way that tricks Person A’s brain into thinking that her arm is extending, but since Person A’s index finger tells her brain that it’s still connected to the tip of her nose, the brain does a quick and dirty calculation (in the absence of visual data) and concludes that her nose must be growing super long. It’s fucking crazy. Try it.
According to Princeton University neuroscientist Michael Graziano, this phenomenon is indicative of the key aspect of the human mind. Our brains create models of the world around us, including our bodies, in order to be attentive to the various signals we get from our senses. So in the Pinocchio Illusion, your brain creates a model of what your body looks like and the model falls apart due to the conflicting stimuli. Our brains might be exceptionally good at making models, but they’re never perfect replicas of what’s happening in the world, just fast and loose sketches to make sense of things.
The First World Is Destroying the Third World Through Climate Change
About 500 years ago, capitalism started to displace feudalism as the dominant socioeconomic system on the planet. There were about half a billion humans wandering around then, and about 80 percent of them were living hand-to-mouth existences and relying on subsistence agriculture. It wasn’t until the replacement of animate energy (biomass) with inanimate energy (fossil fuels) in the West during the 19th century that the global population started to grow exponentially, ballooning to its current level of over 7 billion. (To understand what powered this increase, consider that a teaspoon of diesel fuel contains as much energy as a human can expend in a day.) This transition from diffuse/currently available solar energy to stored/concentrated solar energy transformed every aspect of society, from manufacturing to agriculture to transportation to life expectancy. Basically, the last 200 years of exponential industrial and population growth have been subsidized by ancient, compacted sunlight.
It took about 200,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion (~1800 CE), 130 years to reach 2 billion, 30 years for 3 billion, 15 years for 4 billion, and around 13 years each for 5, 6, and 7 billion. The UN is predicting that reaching 8 and 9 billion will take 16 and 19 years respectively, meaning the rate of population growth might have peaked around the year 2000. It’s probably not a coincidence that this growth corresponds pretty closely with the easy availability of ancient stores of fossilized energy. It has been argued that without fossil fuels, the carrying capacity of Earth would be around 1 to 2 billion humans.
To put it bluntly, we’re reaching peak everything. We’ve blown through our one-time inheritance of natural capital (fossil fuels, topsoil, groundwater, biodiversity) like the crazy, hairless apes we are.
Stoya on Why Las Vegas and Megachurches Are the Pinnacle of Human Achievement
Male bowerbirds are like little avian architects. They build decorative structures as a display of genetic fitness or sexual desirability, then festoon them with whatever brightly colored bits they can scavenge up and deem visually pleasing. Sometimes they hunt down beetles and use them as artwork instead of eating them. The guy with the biggest, prettiest tower gets the most ladies, that then go off to hatch and raise the chicks on their own. They are nature’s confirmed bachelors. Bonobos have sex for fun. They’ve been known to use their tongues when they kiss. Female bonobos have sex with other females and males have sex with other males. They have been documented having orgies that look suspiciously like what you’d imagine goes on inside a swingers’ club but with slightly more body hair. They bang because they’re stressed and they bang because they’re bored. I’m simplifying for comedic effect, and if you want to know more I recommend you read Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind.
Humans are by no means the only animal that engage in behaviors which do nothing to directly contribute to the survival of the individual or species as a whole. However, we do seem to do it harder than any other creature. See, at some point humans figured out things like farming and ended up with a bunch of free time and extra resources. We took advantage of these things and used them to breed like rabbits, cover the earth, and pick fights with other tribes. We built villages and then cities. We developed technology, starting with simple tools and eventually building to things like computers and space ships.