Is Tick Spit the Cure? | Seventh Generation
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Is Tick Spit the Cure?

Author: the Inkslinger

South American TickThere are a lot of places you might think to look for a cure for cancer, but chances are tick spit isn't one of them. Yet that's where a hunch took Brazilian researchers recently. And what they found may just may be medicine's holy grail.

While studying the anti-coagulant properties of the saliva of Amblyomma cajennense, a.k.a. the South American tick, the Brazilian team stumbled across an unusual protein. Wondering if there might not be some curative potential to be had, they tested the substance on rats with cancer and beheld a most remarkable thing: The rats' tumors shrank. When treatments continued, they disappeared altogether and without any damage to healthy cells.

That's completely incredible. But it's also a perfect example of why we need to make sure we don't destroy the habitats that nature has given us. Because you never know what's going to wind up curing cancer or other diseases.

We're not doing such a great job of that right now. Instead of guarding natural treasures, we're selling them out to highest bidders and lowest purposes in an extinction crisis that most people don't even know is well underway. Our world's snowballing loss of biodiversity, an epic vanishing of species great and small that scientists liken to the cataclysmic disappearance of the dinosaurs, stands largely hidden in the shadows of other seemingly more urgent environmental dilemmas like global warming and toxic pollution. Yet from the bottom of the sea to the tops of the mountains, species unique to natural history are falling into oblivion and taking 3.5 billion years of evolution with them.

Some of these, like the dodo or the passenger pigeon, are poster children for ecological hubris and willful ignorance. Others, like the Cuban guettarda tree and the Louisiana vole, faded away all but unnoticed. Educated guesswork suggests that during the 20th century somewhere between 20,000 and two million species became extinct. The most reliable current estimates tell us that at present some 140,000 species are disappearing each and every year.

No one knows exactly how many plants and animals we're losing because no one really knows all that nature contains in the first place. We simply have no idea what's going missing from the great web of life as it tears and frays, and that's why those who have some small inkling understand that this is the crisis that deserves the Beringian cave lion's share of our ecological attention.

Many people, myself included, believe that all life forms are sacred in their way and that each and every one, from the most celebrated megafauna to the lowliest slime mold, have an inherent right to exist. With such an appreciation of life on Earth, in all its fantastic and marvelous forms, comes a profound moral and spiritual obligation to defend each living thing from the black hole of forever gone.

Still, if you need a more utilitarian rationale for going out of your way to preserve the black-footed ferret or the western prairie fringed orchid or any of the other countless species that are slipping away each hour of every day, look no further than the South American tick. It's not a creature that elicits anything close to sympathy. It is, in fact, a fairly creepy, blood-sucking, disease-spreading parasite that preys on human beings. And yet this tiny and ostensibly insignificant creature has quite possibly been hiding the answer to a question that our own species has long and most desperately sought. Who can say what else is out there waiting for us to hoist it into the light of discovery?

To learn more about the magnificent variety of life on Earth, I highly recommend reading anything by one of my personal heroes, the modern-day Thoreau and noted biodiversity sage Edward O. Wilson. In particular, his books The Diversity of Life, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life On Earth, and Biophilia will open your eyes to the unfathomable mysteries that surround us.

For more information about extinction, read the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's annual Red List (pdf) report, an enlightening examination of both the issues and the species involved in what's likely to someday be known as the Anthropocene Extinction.

photo: kafka4prez


Weatherlight picture
I've seen references to the LA Times (May 6 '98), “The Nation’s Investment in Cancer Research: A Plan and Budget Proposal for FY 2006,” National Cancer Institute, October 2004, and Jerome Burne, “Danger Mouse,” The Times [U.K.] 30 July 2002. When did I ever say only synthetics are tested on animals? I don't care if you're abusing animals with tick spit or artificial foody scents, cyanide from labs or from peaches. I'm not hypocritical, ie I believe what I say and I say what I believe. I don't even care about whether something is alive per se. If we discover aliens that are not similar to Earth life in the way their cells are arranged, their respiration, etc yet they have feelings, I'm not going to say "You're not alive so I don't care about you." Nor do I care about the feelings of grass or mold just because they're alive. Hint: Maybe it's because they don't have feelings? Clinical trials can and have started with humans. Not like lab rats were veterinary patients who were beloved family members that happened to get sick. Why don't you test amoxicillin on rabbits and guinea pigs? Why not test chocolate on cats and dogs? Avocado on goats? Tomatoes and onions on cats? No one's allowed to start clinical trials of chocolate on humans until we've verified it's safe for cats and dogs! Also, thalidomide is safe for nonhuman animals (except some rabbits and primates at very high doses); let's give it to pregnant women, surely the safety established in dogs, rats, etc makes giving it to pregnant humans highly informed and informative, and the therapeutic dose established in dogs and rats has already told us what dose to use for humans. Get real. Penicillin is in use today because it WASN'T tested on nonhumans to dictate human use. If people like you had your way, a bunch of rabbits would have been tortured and slaughtered for the wonderful cause of killing humans (by withholding treatment of a fairly safe and very effective family of antibiotics).
colleenmcmichael picture
Weatherlight, can you please site your source(s) for the quotes you use? Only when the context is preserved can scientific fact be of any use. A quick rebuttal, Weatherlight: Actually, many of the substances studied are natural, not synthesized. There are plenty of natural substances that are toxic at high levels. The point of clinical studies is to determine the therapeutic dose. I am by no means condoning animal abuse, however clinical trials cannot start with humans. One must ask how sacred is life? All life? Many of us are hypocritical on this front. Do you avoid soap because it kills bacteria and fungus, while culturing these microbes for the benefit of your intestinal flora and to cause bread to rise? I think that all extremes can be bad. No animal testing versus very regulated and highly informative clinical trials...I know I would love to live in a world where both can exist, but they cannot.
Weatherlight picture
Former National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Richard Klausner has stated, "The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades..." Really shows life is sacred when so many lab rats and mice are manufactured, tortured, and slaughtered just to cure cancer in a couple of rodents. If being born for profit, kept in social isolation in a cage for life, given cancer, forcefed all sorts of drugs, scanned, sliced open, beheaded, and thrown in the trash is not falling into "the black hole of forever gone," I don't know what is. And the funny side of it? Not only are rodents not human (many drugs safe and effective in mice will be fatal to rats and vice versa, so mice aren't rats and rats aren't mice either), not even "pet" rodents usually benefit. If they're taken to the vet at all and actually get a diagnosis made, they're often killed on the spot, or just taken home to continue being the children's playthings until they die. If they do receive chemotherapy, it's smaller doses of the profitable chemo drugs commercially available to humans. And I really hate this type of rationalization for "respecting" others. "Well, you should be nice to Mexicans because they give us lots of cheap labor, even if they're worthless otherwise." "We're not bleeding hearts. Think about it. Shouldn't you join us in campaigning for tougher animal abuse sentences? We don't care about no cats or dogs, it's just that animal abusers tend to move onto human victims next, and we do care about humans." "The reason we should stop eating animal products has nothing to do with speciesism, the huge waste ratios of calories/water/land/protein/etc, the incredible amount of pollution, the crazy government subsidies, the atrocious animal abuses, the degrading treatment and dangerous conditions for the workers, the inflation of food prices, starvation of people in undeveloped countries when local landowners sell out for exporting beef... No, we should stop eating flesh, eggs, and dairy only because we get much less cancer, heart disease, and stroke that way!" "Women are all stupid whiny bitches. I pretend to be nice to mine on Fridays and weekends though, because it makes sure I get a lot of ... Besides, she's a good cook, and does all the cleaning and shopping. Not to mention she's graduating soon, and I expect her to make a lot of money in her field. Why wouldn't I humor her when she has so much potential to be useful to me?" Whenever I hear this bs, it just makes me more convinced that humans are so self-centered they usually only see others as objects for use. Utilitarian indeed. Also, if you want to cure diseases? You never know what's going to end up curing cancer or other diseases, so you should synthesize as many toxic substances as possible and test them all on mice, rats, pigs, monkeys, rabbits, cats, dogs, African-Americans, poor women, institutionalized children and disabled individuals, and people in concentration camps...just like many of our fellow humans have done over the years, good scientists and doctors. One of those artificial chemicals might help wealthy, socially secure, diseased humans--you're right, YOU NEVER KNOW! Save as many species of organisms as you can, and invent as many chemicals as you can, to increase the chances that at least one is good for us ("us" being the wealthy, socially secure humans, of course). picture
You're talking about saving the environment(great), and saving creatures like this tick(excellent), but also talking about "research" where rats are given cancer! That's why I don't support the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation but do stand behind Avon Breast Cancer research which is cruelty-free. I hope this was just an example and not something your company supports, otherwise I will have to stop using your products. I'd appreciate a response. Thank you!