Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt

Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt

Author:Erika Engelhaupt [Engelhaupt, Erika]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Disney Book Group
Published: 2021-03-02T00:00:00+00:00

Megan Thoemmes wraps her long red hair into a bun and puts on gloves before attempting to remove arachnids from my face. Like me, she’s steeling herself for what comes next: scraping the sides of my nose and the creases of my nostrils in hope of squeezing some face mites out of my pores. A graduate student of Rob Dunn’s, she’s a pro at extracting face mites. But she warns me there’s a good chance we won’t find any this way.

A better way to collect Demodex, Thoemmes tells me, is to put a drop of cyanoacrylate glue, otherwise known as superglue, on a person’s face and then stick a glass microscope slide to it. When the glue dries, you peel it off (it’s not as painful as it sounds, she claims) and the glue pulls everything out of the pores, including the mites, all stuck together in a pore-shaped clump. The lab’s record-setting find is 14 mites in a single pore.

But on this morning, Thoemmes couldn’t find any superglue in the lab, so we’re counting on the old-fashioned method: scraping out sebum with a stainless steel laboratory spatula. I’m nervous that she won’t find any mites, and that I’ve driven five hours to see nothing more than a close-up of the gunk in my pores. Thoemmes leans in and scrapes, firmly and steadily. A minute later, she shows me the spatula coated with a healthy smear of translucent face oil, then scrapes it onto a microscope slide and drops on a glass cover slip. Under the scope it goes.

It’s hard to say how many mites live on a typical face, because they’re so challenging to document. But the human face has about 20,000 pores on average, and multiple mites are often found in a single pore, so Thoemmes says it’s reasonable to estimate that many of our faces carry thousands of mites.

Their distribution across the body has been even more difficult to pin down. They’ve been found wherever sebaceous glands are—including the face, chest, back, pubic area, and nipples—but not everyone seems to have them everywhere. On the face, the mites tend to establish territories that vary from person to person; some folks might have more on the forehead, others on the chin. Once the mites find a hospitable region, they tend to establish a neighborhood and stay put, feeling no need to venture beyond their own mite version of Brooklyn or the Upper East Side. One postdoctoral fellow in the lab, Thoemmes tells me, could always pull lots of mites from one side of his own face, but never from the other; that stayed consistent for years.

Thoemmes adjusts the microscope with the adept hand of someone who has done this thousands of times, and I settle in to wait for the results. I’m not waiting long. After just a few seconds, Thoemmes mutters, “I think I found one.” She looks again. “Yes, I did!” We both squeal with joy. Even better, my mite is alive. I watch his tiny legs wiggle as he tries to escape the bright light.


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