Hey Deep Peeps,
It takes a lot of time and effort to produce each episode of Deep Look, and we couldn’t do it without the help of scientists and other valuable collaborators who have closely worked with us over the years. We’re introducing several of these wonderful partners to you in a series of short profiles so you can get a deeper look at their expertise.
Meet Andrea Swei, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, at San Francisco State University. She’s a disease ecologist who studies ticks, tick-borne diseases and how they’re transmitted.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Swei
While much of her research examines Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, she also studies other tick-borne pathogens such as Borrelia miyamotoi, which causes a type of relapsing fever.
“I am really interested in how the relationship between habitat features –– such as vegetation type or habitat patch size –– affects host species diversity,” said Swei.
Studying ticks' habitat helps her understand how much risk they pose to humans as disease carriers.
Our coordinating producer, Gabriela Quirós, has focused on quite a few parasites for Deep Look. She reached out to Swei for help –– and some of her lab’s ticks! –– to produce the popular episode “How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks.”
“We have tick colonies and recently-hatched ticks that were used for the video,” Swei said. (These ticks don't carry any harmful bacteria or viruses that transmit diseases.) Quirós wanted to film a scene of a tick biting someone –– and that was a challenge.
A tick nymph bites into a human arm. Credit: Josh Cassidy/KQED.
“I was really impressed with the team and all the specialized equipment. But it was hard to get the ticks to attach. The lights might have made it too hot for them to feel comfortable feeding,” Swei said. “I tried, but ticks don't really like me –– an occupational benefit! One of my students was able to get a tick to successfully attach.”
In the episode, an animation shows in detail how the tick's mouthparts dig into our skin. KQED's Teodros Hailye created the animation in consultation with Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany, who has studied the tick bite mechanism closely.
Another challenge? Removing the tick on camera. “The Deep Look team wanted me to remove the attached tick from my student using tweezers, which is the recommended way to remove a tick. But it was really hard to remove the tick while using the video feed to view the tick, and I ended up pinching my student's skin. I felt so bad!”
Arielle Crews, a student at San Francisco State University, wrangles a tick nymph in January of 2018. The tick eventually bit into her and the footage became part of Deep Look's episode on tick bites. Credit: Gabriela Quirós/KQED.
Despite these challenges, “It was a really fun and interesting experience,” Swei said. “I am impressed with how much work and time it took to get a perfect shot. In the end, the ticks were not the most cooperative but the video came together nicely. I think it turned out well!”