July 19, 2010
July 19 - Bertiella esculenta
If you're just joining us on "Parasite of the Day", you missed a rather interesting week (June 21-26) where we featured parasites that people eat - on purpose. Here's one more.
Today's parasite is one of two species in the genus Bertiella which are relished by native people of Papuan New Guinea. The name Bertiella esculenta should clue you in on that fact, as "esculenta" means "good to eat" in Latin. The other species, Beritella flanneryi, is named after Tim Flannery who first came across this practice of eating the worms. These tapeworms usually live in the intestine of the coppery ringtail possum (Pseudochirops cupreus), and fortunately for those who find them a gastronomic treat, because of the specialized structure of the possums gut, the worm is very host specific and is unable to survive in any other environment, including the human gastrointestinal tract. There is no reason why a parasite like this tapeworm might be any less palatable than other invertebrate animals consumed as food. Parasites do tend to gather and concentrate various nutrient from the host such as glucose and glycogen, combined with their weak musculature, if you think about it, a tapeworm would make a juicy and tender morsel...if you can get over the "yuck" factor...
Contributed by Tommy Leung.