The Twins Story
How a Jellyfish attack on the Isle of Arran inspired JooMo.
The Twins Story
By Sam Wallen Russell
For my twin brother Kit and me, the build up to the summer break was always an exciting time because as soon as school finished we always set off to visit our grand-parents in Troon on the West Coast of Scotland.
The most striking thing about Troon’s world famous golf course was the view out to sea, its many stunning islands being silhouetted by the setting evening sun. For kids it was the view of the Isle of Arran that was most imposing with its dramatic volcanic profile dominating the skyline. Tangled up in the myths and legends of Scotland's ancient past, Arran’s history stimulated the vivid imagination of young minds, with giants, ogres, demons and evil magicians usually at the forefront.
Slightly reluctantly, we leapt onto bikes and started the ride towards the island’s wild hinterland. After about 20mins of exertion on that unusually hot West Coast day, we were feeling relieved that no ogres had showed up and so felt emboldened to go for a swim to cool down. We had located a beautiful, deep clear blue rock pool, and as confident swimmers, we both leapt into that seemingly pristine water.
Attack of the Medusa...
It was with surprise, therefore, that after about 5 minutes we both experienced a strange tingling sensation on our arms and legs? There also happened to be a little French girl in the water with us at the same time, and we could hear her Mother apparently shouting “Medusa” at her from the shoreline. Now, having been brought up listening to Greek myths, we were both well aware about the terrifying legend of the gorgon Medusa, and of course Arran had already been built up in our own minds as the residence of hideous monsters: in a panic, therefore, we flailed our arms and swam rapidly to the safety of the shore.
We quickly enquired about the whereabouts of Medusa and the chances we would be turned to stone? Met by amused looks, it was explained to us that “la méduse” was French for Jellyfish, and that shortly after entering the water the tide had washed in what looked to be hundreds of these stunning creatures. Looking into the pool again, we could now see the bodies of these beautiful animals, and they seemed to iridesce in an unearthly and surreal display. The whole sea seemed to have suddenly transformed itself into a seething mass of life.
As our initial fear and panic subsided, we again became aware of our slightly stinging arms and legs, and were informed that these beautiful ‘Moon Jellyfish’ do sting slightly, and the best way to soothe the pain was to rub ourselves down with seawater.
Our Grandfather, the Doctor...
Some weeks later, we discussed this event with our Grandfather who was a medical doctor. He told us how for thousands of years the healing effects of seawater have been described by physicians such as the Father of Medicine Hippocrates, and a personal story of terribly burned airmen in the second world war. It seemed that Battle of Britain pilots who ditched in the sea suffered much less from the consequences of their burns than their unfortunate colleagues who bailed out over land.
The Seawater Paradox...
However, several years later we were presented with a paradox: in a high school biology class we were informed that just one teaspoon of seawater contains millions of bacteria and up to 100 million viruses.
So why on earth, therefore, is seawater so successful in healing wounds when it is obviously absolutely teaming with millions of unpleasant organisms? Surely you would be introducing microbes onto already damaged skin, with the potential for dangerous infections?
Yet the facts were that seawater is not just safe but in fact beneficial for damaged skin, and so this curious paradox arises: on the one hand the medical profession had been at the vanguard of convincing us that minimising exposure with any microbes was beneficial, while the evidence of seawater appeared to totally contradict this?
Was our Western orthodox thinking faulty? Could it be that our over over-sanitized modern culture was actually now creating more problems than it was solving? Had the so-called experts’ obsession with disinfecting our surroundings and destroying all species of bacteria meant that they had completely overlooked how complex natural systems, including the human body, worked?
From Astrophysics & Planetary Geophysics to the Microbiome...
One major advantage that Kit and I had over most people in the medical and microbiological professions was that physics was our passion, and as we took our love of the subject through university it became clear that ‘chaos theory’ (nonlinear physics) was the missing link in the understanding of this paradox.
Western culture has overlooked how complex the relationship is between our human bodies and the environment we inhabit. All of us are actually only 40% human: the remaining 60% is our microbiome which is made up of billions of bacteria and other alien species. We are in fact more microbe than man!
Kit as a Planetary Geophysicist and I as a Astrophysicist could see that ill health was by definition just an imbalance in the ecosystem, and that the good health of any natural system was restored by bringing that system back into balance. Beneficial microbes only became ‘bad’ when they were out of balance, with the key being that while an overgrowth could be bad for health, so too could wiping them out.