Sunday, June 10, 2018

Leeches: Beyond Fishing

Image result for leech

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

This video from KQED Science describes the use of leeches in medical treatment. The accompanying essay by Emma Hiolski notes that "the humble leech is making a comeback. Contrary to the typical derogatory definition of a human 'leech,' this critter is increasingly playing a key role as a sidekick to scientists and doctors, simply by being its bloodthirsty self."

I hadn't known that leeches can be used--a low tech method--for assessing local biodiversty. Leeches retain the blood they remove while feeding and that blood can be used through the analysis of the DNA to identify the donor.

Some basic biological research on leech behavior and neurobiology is also described.  An advantage of studying such a small nervous system is that it is easier to understand basic mechanisms on how information from the environment is used in decision-making.

The video shows a bandaged hand after reconstructive surgery and here is where leeches enter the treatment regimen. They remove stale blood from damaged veins that are too small to repair. There is another benefit, too. The enzymes found in leech saliva prevents blood clotting.

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