The Brainy Bug

  According to one recent report, the common tick may be ready for a Ph.D. degree. At least, if statements in a New York Times story are true, the tiny arachnid that bites hikers along our roadsides ought to receive a doctorate, because it knows things researchers still don't understand. Dr. Jose Ribeiro, a parasitologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, says, "Ticks know everything we know and don't know about pharmacology. . . . Biologically, a tick is a box inside a box inside a box." What impressed the researchers? Dr. Daniel E. Sonenshine, biology professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, says, "Ticks are very finicky, like . . . brats who will only eat cookies. The tick has . . . a big cafeteria of cells, muscle, other tissue. But it says no thanks. Just give me red blood cells." Dr. Stephen Wikel, entomologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center, studies Ixodes scapularis -- the deer tick, the main carrier of Lyme disease. Instead of eating on the run like mosquitoes, the tick establishes residence on the body of its host -- camping there for a feast that continues intermittently for five to seven days! To that end, the tick has dozens of elaborate chemical weapons in its saliva. Instead of immediately gorging itself, it drinks only a little blood at first. It concentrates on injecting enough saliva into the wound to avoid detection, stay attached, disable the immune system and keep the blood flowing. How does a little parasite do all of that? For one thing, it injects anesthetic so the host won't feel it and interrupt the meal. Normally the host's clotting mechanism would limit the amount of blood an invader could extract. And the immune system would fortify the invasion site with white corpuscles. But the arachnid's saliva contains compounds to disable the clotting system and to trick white cells into staying away. As a result, the tick has an undiluted diet of red cells, to provide globin molecules that enable it to mature and reproduce. Dr. Wikel hopes to discover how this complex process works, and to find a vaccine to counter Lyme disease. I hope he does. He and his students have already dissected some ten thousand ticks, but he says, "We probably have a lifetime of work ahead of us." But reading their statements, I was most struck by the worldview of the researchers: They said things like, "evolution carried on and ticks . . . developed ways to keep the blood flowing," and "They have a very ancient wisdom." Dr. Ribeiro said, "Ticks know everything we know and don't know about pharmacology." Well, they may do some amazing things, but does anyone really believe the tick's minuscule brain comprehends the chemical cocktail that it carries in its saliva? Even if so, could mere natural processes have engineered this incredible biological interaction? No, the logic here is perfectly clear to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. We don't need to award a Ph.D. to the tick, and we don't need to praise the creature for what it does instinctively. Even in the case of the minuscule tick, we see infinite complexity, something that could not have come about from random processes -- only from a Creator, one who everyday surpasses our understanding and makes fools of the wise.


Chuck Colson



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