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home : opinions : opinions January 24, 2015

8/12/2014 1:24:00 PM
Grasshoppers, butterflies and flies
Brenda Harrison
Editor

One evening last week a tiny green grasshopper hitched a ride on my car windshield. I picked him or her up at the Townhouse Restaurant before heading to my mom’s home off S. Cashua. The grasshopper was at eye level on my windshield which made him or her easy to observe. As I drove 35 mph down W. Palmetto, grasshopper stood still with head high and antennas pushed back by the wind. He reminded me of Rose in the movie “Titantic.” When I stopped for stoplights, he or she would stretch out its long back legs to move across the glass.

All the while its tiny little mouth moved back and forward like it was chewing on something. It was fascinating to watch. I guess the grasshopper hopped off at my mom’s because it was gone when I left. I don’t know how much he or she enjoyed the ride, but I sure did! Speaking of observing insects, I received a press release from Clemson University telling about a new grant they had received for researchers to continue a study on how the butterfly, mosquito and the common fly feed.

They are hoping this study will help engineers develop tiny probes that could siphon liquid out of a human cell for medical tests and treatments. As part of the study, the researchers have been observing and recording video of butterflies feeding from flowers. Their goal is to develop what they call “fiber-based fluidic devices,” that could eventually allow doctors to pluck a single defective gene out of a cell and replace it with a good one, according to Konstantin Kornev, a Clemson materials physics professor. “If someone were programmed to have an illness, it would be eliminated,” he said.

Researchers want the probe to be able to take fluid out of a single cell, which is 10 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, Kornev said. This is hard for my mind to grasp. I think about the delicate butterflies, even smaller mosquitos and flies and wonder how anyone can develop a probe so tiny. According to the news release, their next step is to study the butterfly larvae to understand how its proboscis forms. This understanding could help them develop the probes for medical treatments. Another challenge is figuring out how to keep the probe from getting covered with organic material when inserted into the body, so they are turning their focus to the fly.

It seems flies are able to pierce animal tissue, take up blood and not get the proboscis gummed up and covered with bacteria, according to Clemson entomology professor Peter Adler. This is good news and it is exciting that such important research is taking place in South Carolina. It just goes to show that the beautiful butterfly, as well as the pesky fly, have much to teach us if we take the time to observe them.







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