08 Nov 2018
Rod Dillon and Jen Southern

Para-site-seeing, the travel blogs of a human parasite is the portal for an arts and public engagement project that seeks to portray life from the perspective of the deadly Leishmania human parasites.

Leishmaniasis has plagued humans throughout history causing millions of deaths and massive suffering amongst human communities. The parasites lived inside humans, other mammals and probably dinosaurs, transmitted by tiny bloodsucking sand flies. Leishmaniasis is classified as a neglected tropical disease, it causes about 50,000 deaths per year, a toll only surpassed by one other parasitic disease, malaria. Additional suffering is caused by millions of new cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis. More effective, safer drugs are urgently required for treatment.

The Leishmania had evolved to live in vertebrates using sand flies for transport between hosts for millions of years. Then suddenly within a very short space of time humans pulled Leishmania out of human tissue and made them grow ‘out of body’ in a lab dish in the early 1900s and these parasites have been growing in labs and being transformed as lab subjects around the world ever since. Leishmania species took another leap forward in the 1960s when they underwent their first cryopreservation and were kept for many years to be re-animated in modern automated labs.

We seek to examine what lifespan means for a parasite that reproduces mainly as asexual clones and can be revived after 30 years suspended in a deep frozen state. Leishmania now have a substantial digital footprint; 1000s of publications, news about their outbreaks, genome data, photos and videos. How far does the digital footprint of a parasite stretch online?

We play with the perspective of a non-human parasitic species and how it might view its life in the lab, the outside world and online. Through the web portal multiple narratives unfold, as parasites blog, tweet, insta and vlog their way around the world, tracing their lives in the wild, as experimental subjects in labs, transforming themselves on board sand flies as vehicles for multi-species encounters. We follow para-site-seeing from the parasites first out-of-body experience in the 1960’s and witness its first moments emerging from cryopreservation.

Para-site-seeing is part of the NEoN2018 festival, created by Jen Southern and Rod Dillon and co-commissioned with NEoN the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research at Dundee University.