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Wellcome Film of the Month: The life cycle of the Tsetse fly

27 Aug, 2010

Last Friday was all about mozzies, and this month’s film from 1987 continues the theme of annoying, flying insects that spread terrible diseases. This time it is Sleeping sickness (a.k.a. African trypanosomiasis), which is endemic in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, and the vector of this malady is the Tsetse fly.

The symptoms of the advanced form of the disease can be surmised from its common name, with victims displaying neurological problems such as confusion, bouts of fatigue and disrupted sleeping patterns. Due to the destructive effect it has on the central nervous system the disease is ultimately fatal if left untreated, with victims slipping into coma prior to death.

And, as it is for mosquitoes and malaria, it is a parasite of the Tsetse fly – a trypanosome – that is responsible for the condition. When feeding on the blood of its host, the infected fly inadvertently injects the parasite into the host, where it is then free to wreak its havoc.

However, our film today is mainly about the fly and its life cycle and features quite possibly the most fascinating birth I’ve ever seen – the ‘baby’ (i.e. the larva) is almost the same body weight as its mother when it is finally born:

Support from the Trust will hopefully help to tackle this neglected disease, with funding for the Drug Discovery Unit in Dundee helping it to discover drugs to treat African tyrpanosomiasis. And earlier this year, the genome of one strain of the parasite, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, was sequenced which could lead to genetic and biochemical discoveries which will help in the identification of targets for treating or eradicating the disease.

Wellcome Film

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original file, which is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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