Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Natalie Portman is the Black Swan.

Seen Black Swan yet? I was fascinated, bored, and thrilled by it. Admittedly, I have a thirty year history as a dancer (yes, I'm that old) but I think there's some great stuff in there for those who know nothing about dance or ballet. You'll snore, you'll gasp (in that order.)

What about this film provokes a post by The Cinematologist? How can I write without ruining the film for those who haven't yet seen it? By examining the phenomenon of syndactyly, a.k.a. zygodactyly, a.k.a webbed toes (and fingers.) That's how.

The swan seen here is not played by Natalie Portman.

Get it? Black Swan and webbed toes? Plus toe webbing does appear in the film. For the sake of artistic integrity I will not reveal the context of the toe reference.

During weeks 6-8 of development, a fetus' fingers and toes separate from one another. Up to that point, we all have mitten-shaped hands and sock-shaped feet, sort of. A process called apoptosis(1) separates the digits through the death of the connecting them. If this "longitudinal interdigital necrosis" does not separate the fingers and/or toes, you come out of the womb with webbed fingers and/or toes.

Second and third toe webbing, no bony involvement.

Syndactyly can be a phenomenon in and of itself, or linked to a variety of syndromes. Sometimes the skin is the only tissue linking the digits, but sometime the bones are fused, or additional bones may be present. Syndactyly occurring in the hands can lead to functional losses and cause deformities. With either fingers or toes, once the extent and type of webbing is assessed surgery is the typical treatment. People tend not to see toe webbing as a great impediment to foot function, in contrast with impairment caused by finger webbing. Therefore they may be less likely to treat their webbed toes surgically. As a massage therapist, I have worked on many an untreated webbed toe, but have never worked on untreated webbed fingers.

This is the most creative example of embracing one's toe syndactyly I've ever seen.

As it's own phenomenon not linked to any other syndrome, the chances of being born with webbing have been observed to be around 3 in 10,000 births. Most common is webbing between the second and third toes. White, non-Latin men have a slightly higher likelihood of having syndactyly, and there are genetic links to the condition. So if you're worried about your own future offspring's odds of developing toe deformities, you should do a thorough genetic/family health history with any potential mate and screen them for toe webbing before you mix genetic material. While you're at it, you can also screen for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease, before selecting a partner for parenting. Once you find a mate who passes these genetic criteria, she will probably turn out to be a crazy, controlling stage mother ex-ballerina who bears a resemblance to Barbara Hershey on botox. (What a great performance that was!)

Mother Erica (Hershey) with daughter Nina (Natalie Portman).

This means that statistically, ballerinas are less likely to present with syndactyly than danseurs. There are no definitive statistics of greater incidence of syndactyly in the corps de ballet, as opposed to incidence amongst soloists, or prima ballerinas.

No, you can't swim better with syndactyly of the toes, unless you are a swan. Yes, you can still get athletes foot on the toes, if not between them(2). Finally, there are no documented instances of spontaneous syndactyly... unless you're crazy.

1. The tissue cells webbing the fingers and toes together begin to die (intentionally) in order to free the digits from one another. Apoptosis essentially means normal, intentional cell destruction in any tissue, not just fingers and toes. Sometimes one's body must sacrifice a few for the greater good.
2. Athlete's Foot is a fungus, called tinea, that prefers cracks between the toes, but keep your foot in your shoe long enough where the foot skin can stay warm and moist and... voila!

Monday, November 22, 2010


What do Young Frankenstein and The Ape have in common? Cerebrospinal fluid, that's what! In both films CSF is the golden(1) elixir that, once introduced into a patient's body, will raise low IQ scores, calm behavioral disorders, or cure paralysis. So much for one little fluid to do!


CSF is the liquid circulating around your brain and spinal cord. It essentially acts like liquid packing material. You brain floats in, and is cushioned by it. CSF protects the tender brain from sloshing and getting injured(2). The fluid also helps the body maintain constant intracranial pressure, and transports metabolic wastes and pathogenic agents away from the brain and into the bloodstream.

Can it help a person with flaccid paralysis walk again? Not really. Can it increase intelligence? No. If it could, we'd have heard about kids "juicing" their brains before taking SAT exams.

A lumbar puncture can be used to diagnose many illnesses.

How does one retrieve CSF? Typically with a procedure called a lumbar puncture, aka spinal tap. A needle is inserted into the lower back between two lumbar vertebrae. The person receiving the puncture has to flex the trunk to maximize space between vertebrae.

Although a spinal tap can be performed at the neck, they are usually done between lumbar vertebrae 4 and 5. This is a safer place to perform the procedure because the spinal cord ends around L1/L2. Nerves branch off the cord and continue down through the tube formed by your vertebral column. The sprouty structure formed by these nerves is called the cauda equina (horse's tail).

When you stick a needle into the vertebral canal, the nerves forming the "tail" can get pushed out of the way, minimizing damage by the needle. During a spinal tap in the neck, a danger is that the operator may nick the cord, which isn't so good.


In The Ape, Boris Karloff has a controversial experimental treatment for polio. He injects CSF from a donor into the vertebral canal of a paralyzed, teenage girl, who's in love. It is not clear exactly what type of procedure Boris Karloff uses to retrieve the CSF. He only collects the stuff from men who have been murdered by a "giant ape"(3), and he seems to need a lot of it. His heart is in the right place, and of course the girl starts to walk again, but it goes badly for Boris.

Paralysis from polio....

can be cured with CSF! Thanks to - The Ape!

In Young Frankenstein, Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) performs a transfusion of sorts where he and The Monster (Peter Boyle) mix and swap their CSF. The fluid is supposed to invest The Monster with some of Frankenstein's intelligence, which it does (in the movie, but not really.)

This transfusion had to be performed for 15 minutes exactly! No more, no less!

In the transfusion scene we see the scientist and monster sporting shiny helmets with tubes of liquid bubbling between their heads. Instead of doing a spinal tap procedure, we must assume his assistant, Inga (Teri Garr), drilled holes in Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster's skulls for this fluid exchange. Inga probably tells Frankenstein to "hold onto his hat" on their honeymoon evening so that she doesn't have to look at the bald patches on Frankenstein's head(4).

1. It's not really golden. Cerebrospinal fluid is clear and watery with a lot of glucose (sugar) in it. If it was golden, it would probably be full of bacteria, or maybe have blood in it.
2. For more about brain injury due to "sloshing" you can click on the contrecoup injury labels for other posts.
3. The quotes are for those of you who have seen the movie, wink, wink! (Sure, I could have used an emoticon, but I don't believe in them.)
4. She'd have to shave the area before the operation, for hygenic purposes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Khan (Ricardo Montalban), professional Ceti Eel handler.


Planning a vacation? Let me urge you to be an Informed Tourist and educate yourself about the types of parasites travelers to foreign planets may encounter. Picking up a brochure from the Federation of Planets' Health Department can help you avoid annoying diarrheal disease or parasitic mind control.

Vulcans and humans alike are subject to infestation of Ceti Eel larvae. Although this infestation is rare, emergence of the larva from under the armored scale of the reptile-like Eel adult, and subsequent migration to a human host has been known to occur.

If you encounter a Ceti Eel while on vacation, do not attempt to feed or touch it. Eels have been known to bite.

The larva enters the cranium via the auditory canal (ear hole), penetrating through bone and soft tissues alike to “wrap itself around the cerebral cortex.”

Eel entering auditory canal of non-consenting study subject. Eel size, approximately 3.5 cm.

Pathways utilized by the Ceti Eel.

How can an organism, only a few centimeters in length, wrap itself around a humanoid cerebral cortex? I have yet to find published research describing this phenomenon. Ceti Eel larvae are only a few centimeters in length when they enter the ear and (occasionally) exit it, with no measurable change in size or mass.

Diagram of cerebral cortex. It's big.

However, once ensconced around the cerebral cortex, the larval Eel can control the behavior of its host, compelling him to perform activities he (or she) would not otherwise engage in. The effect of the Ceti Eel on behavior is somewhat similar to the way in which the protozoa Toxoplasma gondii alters the behavior of the rodent it infects.

Chekov (Walter Koenig) doesn't want to help Khan. The Eel makes him behave like a rat on Toxo!


Just as Chekov wants to avoid Khan, rodents want to avoid cats. But rats infected by Toxplasma gondii demonstrate a distinct affinity to cat urine(1)! It is hypothesized that the protozoan influences rat behavior, for this particular parasite needs the rat to be eaten by the cat in order to complete its life cycle.

Mmm... what a lovely fragrance you have! Too bad this rat is under parasitic mind control!

In order to reduce your chances of Toxoplasma gondii infection(2) avoid eating or huffing cat poop, and don't vacation in France (or maybe you could just avoid French cats that eat a lot of raw game.)


How does one detect Eel infestation? Signs and symptoms of Ceti Eel infestation include: headache, screaming, mild fever, behavioral and personality changes (compliance leading to dementia), slight bleeding from the ear, possibly death.

Bleeding from the ear, a common sign of Eel infestation.

There is no known treatment for Ceti Eel infestation. Tylenol or other analgesic medications may reduce headache and fever. Ceti Eel larvae do not seem to parasitize humans for any essential metabolic purpose, and occasionally will spontaneously re-emerge from their host’s ear with no perceptible alteration in size or shape.

Miraculously, infestation with Ceti Eel seems to have no detrimental effect on hearing.

If the infestation does not spontaneously resolve, death results.

Enjoy your trip!

1. Does this mean incontinent cats make better mousers?

2. In most people, presence of the protozoan is well tolerated, but avoid changing that litter box if you're pregnant.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I was watching 28 Days Later on TV the other night, and things were going fine. Animal rights activists break into a lab performing experiments on chimpanzees. Got it. Activists become infected by the chimps. Okay. 28 days later, after the lab break-in, a bike messenger awakens from his coma to pad around a deserted hospital... well... there's no residual nervous system deficit of any kind after waking up from a coma? I guess that's kinda alright... he is cute in a little boy way, which means I'll keep watching. Fights, chasing, killing people infected with the virus. Yay!

He runs quite well for someone fresh from a coma(1).
Apparently the bloggers at (un)Death-Match also noticed
discrepancies with the hospital scenes.

So where did the record-scratch-of-outrageousness come in for me? Right after Selena (Naomie Harris), a fellow plague refugee tells the cute boy, Jim (Cillian Murphy), that you only have 20 to 30 seconds between the time this Rage virus enters your body and when you start up on a killing rampage yourself. Thirty seconds, really? The only other virus that works that fast is the Andromeda Strain! I bet the Rage virus was synthesized by aliens and provided to the chimp lab for testing.

After a person is infected with a pathogen, be it bacteria or virus, there is a period of time wherein the patient's body is trying to defend itself and the pathogen is trying to overwhelm the body's defenses. The period between infection and presentation of signs and symptoms of disease is called an incubation period.

Here are some incubation periods for famous diseases:
Smallpox: 7-17 days
Swine Flu and Influenzas at large: 1-4 days with an average of 2 days
Polio: 6-20 days with a range of 3-35
Ebola: 2-21 days
Genital Warts: 2 to 3 months

Incubation period for Rage virus: 20-30 seconds, based on anecdotal evidence.

Incubation takes time. As stated in earlier posts, viruses use host cells to replicate and viral replication can't take only seconds because cells can't crank out proteins, enzymes, and new viruses that fast. Once they do, those new viruses have to get to your brain and infect a bunch of neurons, in order to change someone's behavior.

Sometimes people seem to confuse the actions of
microbes with the actions of chemicals. Chemicals (like alcohol) just have to get to your brain cells and bind with them or alter their structure to change your behavior. Viruses have to infect brain cells and start replicating, which takes a lot longer.

Did I get over the moment? Sure I did. But 28 Days isn't as good as Daybreakers, in my humble opinion.

1. The guy on fire runs quite well for someone consumed by flames.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I saw Valhalla Rising the other night. Wow! I've never seen such braining! And the scar tissue was excellent. Only three words of criticism; not enough pus. Let's face it, unhygienic Norsemen with all those wounds need a little pus.

Mads Mikkelsen (as One Eye) is now in my top three Cinematologist Yummy Movie Stars list.
The other two are Will Smith and Sigourney Weaver, in any order.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

HUMAN HOST AND PLANT PARASITES- Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Exclusive of the occasional pine tree seed taking root in human lung tissue, there are very few instances of plant life living on or in human tissue.... on this planet.

Xray of pine sprout growing in lung tissue. Is it real? A hoax? Does it really matter?

Plant life is not to be confused with fungi that parasitize human bodies, producing pathologies such as athletes foot (tinea pedis), ringworm (tinea corporis), and jock itch.

This was the most benign athlete's foot picture I could find. The link is above.

Most plants leave humans alone, seeking fertile soil elsewhere. But this is not so for the plant-like creatures in the 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. These vaguely hibiscus looking flowers(2), use tendril-like shoots to contact and assimilate the bodies of the host human, who is slowly, over the course of hours reduced to a fibrous ash.

As you sleep, these alien plants parasitize you...

creating a replica of you by using your original proteins and enzymes, I assume.

The next day your fibrous, ashy, carcass is disposed of by city sanitation services.

Although the people emulated by the body replicating plantlife will report the “new” life of an outerspace flower human as being preferable to their old purely Earthly human life, this first-hand report of a mutualistic symbiosis comes from an unreliable source, and requires further study.

Signs and symptoms of space flower plant infestation include: drowsiness, flaking skin, dry mouth, coma, dehydration, rebirth as a new life form.

A new you!

Anti-fungal sprays and creams such as Tinactin and Lotrimin are ineffective against plant parasites. They only work against tinea (skin fungus). In the case of Body Snatching, prevention is the best treatment.

Better for jock itch, not useful for Body Snatcher treatment(3).

1. How could I resist a tie-in between a Doris Day/Rock Hudson hypochondriacal comedy, and the 1956 and 1978 horror classics, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers?

2. I am most definitely NOT The Cinemabotanist! The flowers look like little hibiscuses to me, but they also look like primroses, from my ignorant perspective.

3. This would be like using an antibiotic for the flu or common cold.

Monday, June 21, 2010



Scooped up by a Satellite sent into space for the purpose of bringing samples of microscopic life back to earth, the Andromeda Strain (1977) of virus is incredibly robust, and able to exist even in the vacuum of space. Once on earth, it instantly kills (almost) every human and vulture it comes into contact with.

The Andromeda Strain. Another bird flu?

This alien virus is truly alien in that it seems to reproduce more like a bacteria than like a virus. As you will recall from my Mutation, Part 1 entry, viruses use the resources of a host cell to replicate. Earthly viruses cannot reproduce without a cell to infect. Not so for the the Andromeda Strain.

Our nation's best scientists have found this microbe to be capable of using energy to undergo a mitosis-like process in which the virus makes copies of itself(1). In the words of one researcher regarding this process, “It’s like a nuclear reactor!” The logic and meaning of this statement is somewhat fuzzy in the film. As a matter of fact, scientists in the film state that a nuclear explosion would release so much energy that the virus could be induced to replicate at astronomical rates. Therefore the nuclear option as a method of viral containment is out. It is also a crystalline form of life, something that we don’t see here on good ol’ earth every day. (Or any day, really.)

This crystalline virus will use "energy" and nothing else...

... to divide and reproduce in mitosis-like fashion.


This virus is inhaled, reacts with blood in the lungs, and initiates virtually instantaneous clotting that emanates from the pulmonary circulation through the trunk, and out to the extremities.

High-tech seventies style imaging of spontaneous coagulation of blood in a rhesus monkey exposed to the virus.

Of course, instantaneous death is the result with primary Andromeda infection. An incision of the skin of an infected (dead) person releases a dusty stream of sand-like blood from the wound site.

Clotting and dehydration!


Is there no cure, vaccine, or other prophylactic measure that can help us control the spread of this airborne threat to human and vulture-kind(2)? Well, it turns out that hyperventilation may produce changes in blood acidity, making it more alkaline, and discouraging Andromeda viral infection. The microbe grows well in the presence of normal levels of blood carbon dioxide(3), less well with oxygen(4). The stuff can thrive in a vacuum, but mess with a simple thing like blood ph and it falls apart.

Signs and symptoms of primary Andromeda Strain infection: shortness of breath, instantaneous death.

Here's a young woman dead of Andromeda Strain infection. Needless to say, she got more camera time than any other casualty of the virus in this film.

Treatment: Increase blood acid or alkaline levels, through vigorous anaerobic exercise (increases acidity) or hyperventilation (increases alkaline). Additional treatment may be attempted through hyperventilation, or drinking of Sterno. Yes, Sterno or other forms of denatured alcohol. Nuclear devices are contraindicated.

Drink this at your next fondue party to treat your Andromeda Strain infection.

1. During mitosis a cell will make copies of its DNA, organize matching sets of DNA/genetic material at either end of the cell, and then the cell splits into two, making a perfect copy of itself.
2. It kills beagles, monkeys, and rats, too!
3. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood (which can happen with vigorous exercise) increased blood acidity, for you trivia buffs.
4. As your breathing rate increases with vigorous exercise, you blow off carbon dioxide, and end up with more oxygen in the bloodstream which makes blood more alkaline.

Monday, June 14, 2010



The complicated relationships of alien to man can be examined on a number of different levels. When we explore human/alien symbiosis, we should understand the basic dynamics of such relationships.

In a nutshell, symbiosis describes the intimate relationship of two dissimilar organisms living in close association to one another. When discussing human/alien symbiosis, I am not describing the cultural intimacies associated with the “prawns” and humans from District 9, nor the sporting relationships of the Predator and his human prey, for these types of relationships are relatively casual without any significant form of biological commerce.

Inter-species sporting activity is not an example of symbiosis

Specifically, I wish to explore many manifestations of alien/human parasitism: a relationship in which a parasite (alien) benefits from this intimacy, while the host (human) is harmed. Other forms of symbiosis such as mutualism(1) and commensalism(2) do not apply here.


Animal/arthropod relationships are exceedingly common. Lice, mites, and fleas are common infesters of humankind. Itchy, embarrassing annoyances at best, and carriers of deadly disease at worst, these critters have sucked human blood, drunk human sebum (skin oil), eaten skin flakes, and burrowed into our skin for thousands of years.

Lice are not aliens, but they are blood-sucking, sebum-drinking parasites.

Most direct harm caused to human hosts by these relationships is minor. However lice and fleas can also be vectors for disease, transmitting microbes responsible for bubonic plague and other nasty illnesses.


The Alien relies on a host of any variety of life forms, during an incubatory phase in its life cycle. An Alien larval organism emerges from its egg, possessed of four pairs of legs. These legs enable the organism to spring at the “face” of a host be it dog, human, or predator.

Alien larvae launching at faces.

This larval stage creature, according to the wiki literature, implants what has been referred to as an “embryo” in the chest of the host. Implantation may be through esophageal or tracheal penetration, but no definitive data has been collected as yet on this subject.

Alien incubation has been seen in both the thoracic and abdominal cavities(3). Most symptoms of Alien infestation are symptoms of cardiopulmonary distress, as opposed to digestive disorders, or abdominal complaints. However, it is important to remember that gastrointestinal conditions like heartburn and acid reflux can cause sternal and epigastric pain that mimic angina(4).

Pain from heartburn can mimic angina.

Pain from angina can mimic heartburn.

Nestled within the mediastinum of the chest, between the lungs and the heart, the Alien develops into a nymph that is called a “chestbuster” in wiki speak(5). While ensconced in its host, the human is relatively unharmed. However, when the nymph is ready to re-emerge from its encasement, it punches out of the chest wall, like a baby chick on a cocktail of speed, meth, and steroids. During this process, the nymph destroys the sternum, ribs, adjacent musculature and all associated vascular structures.

The "chestbuster" alien nymph.

Additionally, the vigorous physical activity necessary for breaking through the thorax, will also likely cause lacerations to the lungs, pericardium, and heart. This process usually kills the host organism (providing) they possess a heart and lungs in the thoracic cavity. For this reason, a Vulcan may survive Alien parasitic infestation of the chest, but not of the abdomen.

Signs and symptoms of alien infestation include: short term memory loss with vague associations of anxiety and terror, palpitations, dyspnea (shortness of breath), and angina.

Endstage signs and symptoms include: excruciating chest pain, collapsed lung, sternal and rib compound fracture, hemorrhage, bleeding, muscle tear, unconsciousness, and death.

Currently there is no known treatment for alien infestation.

1. Mutualism is a relationship in which both organisms benefit from their relationship. The relationship between human beings and the beneficial bacteria living in their guts is considered a mutualistic relationship.

2. Commensal relationships neither benefits nor harms the host supporting an organism. Eyelash mites living (you guessed it!) on your lids and lashes are often used as an example of this form of relationship.

3. Different movies, and scenes within the same Alien movie, will show Aliens emerging from the chest, and/or the abdomen. The films are not clear.

4. Angina is chest pain, usually signifying that the coronary arteries are not supplying the heart with enough blood.

5. I'm assuming a more formal, scientific name would be "chestbuster" in Latin or Greek.

Friday, June 11, 2010


This just came in, over the (email) transom, from my friend Todd Alcott. Not only is Todd a brilliant screenwriter, he can crack a pertussis joke that is actually funny. You'd be amazed at the number of really boring pertussis jokes out in the world. Here's the link to his six-minute short, Ad Men.

Friday, June 4, 2010



I thought it might be fun for everyone to see my contribution to Kevin Geeks Out - About Aliens! May 21st. It was a wonderful show! There was a tinfoil hat contest, alien cupcakes, the works! At the end of the video, you will see Kevin, our host, wearing makeup, disguising himself as an alien. The lights are dim, and the video is grainy, so the dark green skin and yellow zig-zag don't quite register. You will have to take my word that he was quite impressive!

The lecture is about 8 minutes. It covers the main topics of alien parasites that will appear here in future posts. But there is a lot of detail that had to be left out of the live presentation. Future posts regarding alien parasite infestations will have new little gems of information not seen here.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I've been doing some research about aliens parasitizing people for an upcoming presentation at Kevin Geeks Out About... Aliens! this coming Friday, May 21. (Buy your ticket now. Kevin tends to sell out.) Of course, this is my favorite kind of research because I get to watch science fiction movies, and I LOVE science fiction!

After watching eight movies, I realize that I have too much material for a six minute lecture, so I thought I'd start up my parasite-themed explorations here with The Hidden, which isn't making it into my presentation.

These parasitic aliens come in two forms: slug-like organism, or golden vapor. In either case, the parasite enters the host through the mouth and is somehow able to control their body completely. The subjective experience of the host is not known, as no one has lived through an infestation to relate their experience.

How is a five pound(1) tendrilly, slimy slug, entering a hosts body supposed to posses and control someone while sitting in their digestive tract(2)? For that matter, I'm not sure I understand how a golden, sparkly, vapor would be able to control the mind and body of a person, either.

This man's burnt skin doesn't gross me out as much as
the alien coming out of his mouth...

.... and going into his!

Kyle MacLachlan gives Michael Nouri the vapors.

Signs and symptoms of slug infestation include:
  1. Physical activity in spite of life-threatening disease or injury
  2. Anti-social behavioral changes including robbery, physical violence, and murder
  3. An appreciation of relatively obscure 80's punk music
  4. Death
Practice safe oral hygiene! Don't let alien parasites embarrass
you with poseur rock and a boom box!

Signs and symptoms of vapor infestation include:
  1. Low tolerance for alcohol
  2. A fetching innocence regarding the proper administration of Alka-Seltzer.

Drop it in the water, silly.

Unfortunately, treatment inevitably kills the host and parasite. The only known therapy for this particular parasitic infection is to kill the human host with a flame-thrower (see photos A and B). This will cause spontaneous migration of the slug from the host body (photo C). One can then terminate the parasitic alien via a space-age weapon that will vaporize the creature, but is ineffective on human tissue (photo D).

Photo A: apply flame thrower

Photo B: death of host is eminent

Photo C: slug leaves host via the mouth

Photo D: slug is vaporized

In this particular case, prevention is the best treatment.

1. Approximate weight.
2. Has anyone noticed that aliens parasitizing humans (Alien, The Hidden, etc.) are never excreted anally?