The Mosquitoes and Us

You know you have not yet been officially welcomed in Cambodia unless you have been greeted by mosquitoes. On the night of my arrival, I received two bites within the first ten minutes of making my way through TSA. Even at 1am, the air felt humid. Mosquitoes could be seen left and right. My body begged for a splash of ice cold water and to bask in an air-conditioning room. After over 2 days of air transit to get to Cambodia, I was also ready to dive into a queen-sized bed. A mosquito-less slumber that followed that night was definitely icing on the cake.

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Aerial Shot of Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia courtesy of Cambodia UN

It then got me curious of this mosquito deal. You and I know very well and are fast to respond to a mosquito nuisance; we rush to a room of cold air and rub to soothe our irritated skin. And it’s always in the hot, clammy environment that we face these cold-blooded suckers. The current Zika outbreak, accidental discovery through my boss that only female mosquitoes bite, and their incessant attacks as I am typing this prompted me to write this up.  

 

To come to think of it, these “little flies” are rather smart, at least from a biological standpoint. By this, I don’t only mean it because mosquitoes capitalize on dusk when their preys are in the most vulnerable position. After getting attacked by them at a number of places, I have found that even though our face is just as exposed and contain comparably as many blood vessels as equivalent areas of certain appendage or torso regions, the face is rarely the targeted site. On the other hand, the leg, where the blood vessels are dense and heavily intertwined, is the most popular attraction for these visitors. Perhaps the mosquitoes do realize how quickly we will identify and retaliate for their bites. After all, given the abundance of cranial nerves and the time it takes for the sensory stimulus to travel from our face to our brain, their rate of success is enhanced, by a fraction of a second, if they home in on the region such as the leg, which is less innervated but blood vessels dense.

 

Another possibility is that mosquitoes are aware of the human body makeup, a knowledge possibly passed down from generation to generation, and therefore home in on the specific regions of their host for the extraction of particular nutrients. Should that be true. It is only to prove how much more clever mosquitoes are. And this can also imply that we both share some fragments of genetic makeup which mark for specific nutrients `without which the bug cannot survive. We’ll have to wait for science to unfold. Or, I have just simply gone mad to think of this idea.

 

Back to where I left off, I also find it fascinating that mosquitoes detect the presence of their preys by smell, sight, and heat as suggested by a Caltech study. The carbon dioxide, the waste product of our respiration, is the chemical messenger recognized by a receptor in mosquitoes that beckons them over. Breathing as a result is a callout to the mosquitoes that you are here. They also guide themselves to you by sight should you try to hold your breath. But thankfully (for now), if you are close enough to them, they won’t be able to spot you as a result of the anatomy of their orbits, which are separated by a lengthy glabella. However, since you are close enough, now they can sense your presence by the energy you emit, heat. These three triple feeding mechanisms complement one another and enable this insect to be an efficient sucker. What a “beautiful” creation.

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Triple Feeding Mechanisms courtesy of  Caltech

And I think, if I may, there is also an underlying symbolic, social significance between the feminine genes and perseverance/survival traits, as displayed by the mosquito “society”. Contrary to our anthropo-societal norm, the females are touted as the “breadwinner” in the mosquito world. Both genders of mosquito population feed on nectar. However, nutrients beyond those in nectar such as proteins found in blood are needed for egg development. For this reason, the females–whether guided by their genes or situational attribution, or both–risk their lives and scavenge for blood in the name of reproduction, in the name of preserving the species’ place in the evolution tier.

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DC’s Female Super Star–Wonder Woman courtesy of DC Comics

The “culture” of these female mosquitoes could single-handedly depose the dominance of machismo, which has been perpetuating gender inequality in the human world. The gender role in population of mosquito can also serve as a model for us, the masculine who are historically and culturally wired to view females inferiorly, to view femininity with more appreciation, recognition, and respect. More importantly, it is to show that it’s due to the perseverance of those who bear through gestation that there is today for all of us. Male is no exception!

 

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Chemical Philosophy: Electron Meets Happiness

Electrons are characterized by the energy states in which they reside. These energy states are further referred to be “quantized” as they are separated by precise amount of energy in different molecules. Coupled with the allowable angular and magnetic spins, each electron is very unique. Surprisingly, our happiness is no different. Happiness is also very intrinsic, subjective, and in a scientific term, quantized; what makes me happy may not do you any joy. The common praise: “you are very special!” may also owe its origin to this abstraction.

Just like the event of each excitation of the electron, upon each “excitation” of our happiness comes “relaxation” to its former ground state. Happiness is short-lived. We feel it in this second, it then diffuses away from us in the very next. An adrenaline rush, a smile that stretches from ear to ear, a momentary peace of mind and uplifted spirit, these are all we get. Then everything cycles again til the next stage of happiness is reached. “Could ‘the pursuit of happiness’ be founded on this very idea?” This may also very well explain why mankind is on an endless voyage to seek happiness because its happiness routinely reverts back to its “ground state”.

In Chemistry, electron is a mobile negatively charged subatom that brings about the system of an atom. It is also the main contributor to chemical bond formation in molecules, be them organic or inorganic. Being capable of moving up to the speed of light, 3 x 108 m s-1, electrons’ constant motions make it hard for their locations at a given time to be determined. But it is specifically this feature of the electron that could shed some light on why a living body should also be relentlessly moving and avoid idling. It is this feature that could possibly highlight the importance that to be moving is to be pursuing happiness.

We are a species that becomes harder and harder to please.

Take a baby infant, an open of arms of that of an embrace gesture or a smile will light up its expression. Take a preschooler, that gesture alone might no longer cut it without a cone of ice-cream, perhaps, in order to revive that liveliness. Then comes teenager and I think you get the idea. Instead, I’d like to take this space to admire moms and dads who are quite tolerant of their temperamental teens. In adulthood, we are now conditioned by goal setting. As we grow older and bear more responsibilities, happiness is now a measure of how successful we achieve our goals. In other words, goal accomplishment transcribes into a feeling of happiness. But imagine this. Run a 10k marathon for the first time, beat it, you feel spectacular. “I did it!” loudly and almightily. However, beating it for the second time might not abstract the same degree of happiness as you first did. The more and more you run this course, the more and more it becomes mundane to you, and the less and less you feel satisfied about your accomplishment. In fact, repeating this over and over could eventually desensitize your response to your achievement and take your enjoyment out of running altogether. The main point is the road to happiness seems to become more and more far fetched with respect to age and goal. And in this stage of adulthood, if we don’t set forth more goals that challenge us to stay in motion, we could become less and less happy, less and less satisfied with ourselves.

“Be an electron!”

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You will never find a static electron in this sphere called Earth governed by magnetic field. By the co-existence between moving charges and magnet, you will never find a charge, or an electron, that is never in motion. The fascinating nature with electrons is that they are always “looking for new opportunities”. Being loosely held by the nucleus of the atom, they are free to seek new electron clouds from other electrons in other atoms to form bond with, through donating-accepting or equal sharing, which is scientifically known as ionic or covalent bond, respectively. This “opportunity seeking” is a characteristic of electrons to challenge themselves to find ways to form a more efficient and energetically-favorable bond. “Can we find more ways to form bonds that will allow us to become more energetically stable?” is the mentality each electron bears. To electrons, the formation of a new bond, though earns them a feel of accomplishment and brief happiness, is only the start of a new challenge to form an even more stable bond. And so they achieve their goal given the right experimental conditions.

To be an electron, it is to never cease exploring new breakthroughs. To be an electron, it is never to cease pursuing the state of happiness.

“Be an electron! Pursue your happiness!”