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Posted by elvin walemba
Lecture: "On the Trail of a Killer" by Dr. W. Shipton
The staple food of many of the lowland peoples of Papua New Guinea is sago starch derived from the pith of the sago palm tree. The starch is stored in various ways throughout the country depending on cultural norms. In the Western Province the starch is stored in woven palm leaf bundles and in the Sepik it is stored in clay pots where the starch is covered with water. In the Western Province in particular the consumption of older starch can lead to a haemolytic disease where the red blood cells break down rapidly and the patient develops a fever, jaundice and urinates blood pigments. Death follows rapidly within 12-24 hours if a blood transfusion is not given – the reality is that such a solution generally is not available. The scientific challenge was to find the cause of the rapid haemolysis. Microorganisms and their products were suspected as the cause. The lecture presents a fascinating story of investigation in which both the culprit and the cure seem to have been discovered. The research is ongoing.