Feature: How Evolution Can Explain Allergies

Every summer, when I return home for my vacations, I am hesitant about eating food at roadside stalls because, you know, who knows how unhygienic the food there is? In a role reversal that I still find amusingly ironic, my mother would accuse me of being wimpy and shove a plateful of food into my hands. Her logic—if we are over-protective of our immune systems, they will ‘forget’ how to respond when hit by a major infection. Blood them in battle, she said.

I’m still going to hold off from the delicious and teeming-with-microbes sugarcane juice on Indian roads, but as it turned out my mother was on the right track. A variant of her statement does apply in the case of allergies in what has been proposed as the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’. Did you know that the incidence of autoimmune diseases (allergies being a prime example of these) is much higher in industrialized countries? Exposure to infectious agents in childhood primes your immune system for a more effective immune response as you grow up. Conversely, an extremely sanitized environment (often seen in industrialized countries) during childhood can make your immune system weak, unprepared to face infections and respond to harmless molecules that then become allergens.

Evolutionary Mismatch

How, and why does this happen? The answer lies in an ‘evolutionary mismatch’. Our bodies evolved in an environment which is very different from the one we live in now.

Let’s travel back in time for a little bit. In the first stage of human history, members of our species were hunter-gatherers. Our immune systems were constantly being exposed to a host of microbial organisms and worms. Around 12,000 years ago, we started settling down and took to agriculture. We continued being exposed to microbes, and in fact the sedentary lifestyle led us to being exposed to them for longer periods and increased human-human transmission. And then came the Industrial Revolution, bringing with it sanitation, vaccines and the beginning of the world as we know it. Many of the organisms that our ancestors encountered on a daily basis are now depleted from our present-day environment.

[Image Credit: ucla/ Nature Immunology]

‘The Old Friends’ Hypothesis’

We have grown up in the industrial age, but our immune system has evolved over centuries in the first and second stages of human history. Microbes and worms were so omnipresent that our immune systems learned to tolerate their presence in the body if they were harmless. Reacting to an infection is costly for the body, as we know from the all-pervading weakness we experience after a fever. A wiser route for the immune system was to just let the microbe exist, and simultaneously, the worms evolved to release certain molecules that would down-regulate certain components of the human inflammatory system. In the current environment, our bodies do not contain the micro-organisms that regulated our immune system. Our immune systems thus rise to inflammatory baits in a heartbeat.

It’s still a hypothesis, but there’s plenty of evidence that supports it. Guts of children with allergies have been found to have fewer numbers of a bacterial species called lactobacillus. Another study in Argentina showed that people with fewer worms called helminths have fewer incidences of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Our bodies are thus not adapted to the environments we live in, leading to this kind of a mismatch. In context of public health, it is not feasible to think of returning to the environments of our ancestors, nor is it feasible to think of infecting allergic patients with 50 hookworms that would downregulate the immune response. However, learning more about the symbiotic  mechanisms between our ‘old friends’ and our immune systems could help design more effective therapies towards autoimmune disorders.


Microbes, immunoregulation and the gut

Old Friends Hypothesis

How Parasites can trick your immune system

Team17 Launches Worms Licensing Program

Everybody likes Worms. No, not the squiggly and brown things that fertilize soil and cause little girls to make a puke-face; the Worms I’m talking about are the squiggly and brown things that cause mayhem and destruction and make little boys laugh as they blow things to bits. (Alright, I might have made a generalization back there). But, yes, everybody likes Worms the turn based worm-to-worm destruction game that has been around for quite a while and has a small but devoted fan following around it.


UK based Team17, the developers of the Worms series, has announced that they will be releasing their trademark for licensing merchandise based on the Worms characters and universe. The cartoony graphics are quite well known and the games have been well received (and gently criticized for not going beyond the tried-and-tested formula which always works) by gamers worldwide, and the merchandise is also expected to do well:-

For the first time, the hugely popular videogames franchise Wormsâ„¢ is being offered to licensees, retailers and promoters for a range of merchandise, by UK-based brand owner Team17 Software Ltd. and its worldwide licensing agent AT New Media. Wormsâ„¢, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2010, is a bestselling, award-winning and hilarious turn-based strategy videogame.

The Facebook fan page update says that it might take many months before any official merchandise hits retail stores. However, the thought of seeing our beloved Worms on cups, saucers, pillowcases, iPod docks and Holy Hand Grenades is quite a nice one. Let’s hope they don’t fizzle out like a badly aimed Sheep Strike.

What is the Deal with Stuxnet Anyway?

Really, what is the deal with Stuxnet anyway?  When it was detected back in June and Pallab at Techie-Buzz  covered it back in July, we hardly knew it would end up in so much of badassery. Throwing some light on the issue,

The  Shell Shortcut Parsing vulnerability is a particularly worrisome bug because there are not a lot of things a user can do to  protect himself. Even if autorun and autoplay is disabled, users can still get infected. All that the user is required to do is to open the compromised device, network share or WebDav.

From that time on and today, Stuxnet has grown to be the most sophisticated piece of attack and for the first time in the history of worms, is posing serious threat to a specific infrastructure type.

As reported at BBC, the worm attacks power plants, water plants and industrial units, proof being a high concentration of attacks in Iran and a possible attack on its nuclear power plant. Stuxnet is like one of those dark programs we see in sci-fi movies that eat into your infrastructure. It is rightfully termed as a weapon. It does not steal information but cripples the system as a whole. The vulnerability is so serious and put simply, hardwired that a simple software patch will not help at all.

The Stuxnet worm spreads by USB drives and has the ability of reprogramming the programmable logic controller or PLC. The PLC, essentially a digital computer is the main interface between the electrical signals from the computer and the mechanical actions from say, the assembly line and other actuators. It is used extensively for the automation of these mechanical tasks.

Currently, Stuxnet is being reverse engineered and  Langner Communications seems to be  the only expert on it. From their analysis, it is clear that this attack is too well engineered to be the work of hackers who do it for fun. Anyone who worked on this was serious about getting back at some industries.


Worms Reloaded Beta Signups Open

More Worminess! (Or was it Wormsishness?) Worms Reloaded’s Steam community is bustling with activity. Yes, this is in relation to the cryptic Beta signup that we talked about a couple of days ago. Yes, it is a closed beta and yes you need to do something to get into it. What precisely do you have to do to get in on it?

The Team 17 admin has posted clear cut instructions in the community post:-

If you want to be in with a chance to join the Beta ranks all you need to do is send an email to [email protected] with the subject Worms Reloaded Beta Test.
You then need to include in the email your Steam ID and what country you are from. And that’s it.


Do remember that your Steam ID is NOT the same as your Steam username. If you do not know what your Steam ID is, simply go to Steamcalculator, put in your username and your Steam ID will come up on the screen. Do remember that you need to be a member of the Worms Reloaded Steam community to get in on this beta. Moreover, the signups will close by tomorrow 1:24 PM IST! So do send that email fast!

Have fun playing it guys!

Worms Reloaded Opens for Beta

Worms Reloaded has finally extended its beta for a worldwide audience. Previously, this beta was only available for a small number of European users. However, Team17 has officially announced, in their Steam community we mentioned about previously, that they will be opening up beta for Steam users on Monday:-

Just a brief announcement to let you know that following the success of the limited Beta on Worms Reloaded (our new Worms game for Steam) we have decided to extend the Beta to a worldwide audience (previously Europe only) . However there are a limited number of Beta keys.


To enter into this beta, you need to join the official Steam community and await Monday with bated breath.

Worms Reloaded Gets its Steam Community. No Beta in Sight, Though

Remember that old news story about Worms: Reloaded? Team17 have started a Steam community for the game with no beta in sight. My guess is that the company is trying to build up enough anticipation for the game that when it does release, crazed quantities of buying via Steam will comfortably carry them onward for a healthy profit.


That last statement comes as a direct result of this:


Posted in the Facebook page of Team17, this poll suggests a very high probability (hint, hint) of new screenshots that will be up in the page. Techie Buzz will post as soon as it has confirmation on this matter. (Read: When Team17 does post a few screenshots)

The developer’s other game Alien Breed: Impact also has its community page on Steam before launch or even a beta. Curious.

Gaming Friday Buzz and Deals Roundup

Welcome to the newest weekly feature of Techie Buzz. Each Friday night, we hope to hound all you gamers with the latest news, deals and more from the world of gaming in bite-sized pieces. The first part of Gaming Friday is the Buzz that highlights the latest news of this week, while the latter part is the Deals section for all you gamers who buy legit!



  • Great news for Indian console gamers: post the Indian Union Budget, gaming softwareimports are to get cheaper. Pranab Mukherjee’s Budget was not without drama, but at least us gamers received something for the first time. Note: Newspapers have not mentioned much regarding this, but let’s see how things go about.
  • A new Steam client UI opened up for public beta. With a lot of new features and a shiny exterior, Valve has given Steam users a chance to use and comment upon this new client. Though it has its host of issues, it will be ironed out in the coming days for a much nicer experience while using Steam.
  • The classic Atari game Missile Command has been released for free multiplayer online play by OMGPOP. This rehash of the nostalgia-inducing Missile Command will feature power-ups, new enemies and boss-battles.
  • A new Worms game is going to be released on the PC exclusively through digital distributor Steam. Worms: Reloaded will be an extended edition of the earlier console versions.



That’s it for now from Gaming Friday. Do let us know how you enjoyed it and what can be improved in the next edition by commenting below!

Steam-Exclusive Worms Game will be a Console Copy

What is Worms you ask? If you had asked that question to me in person, my cold stare would have given you frostbite. Worms is the amazing turn-based blow-things-up game where you control a pack (/army/collection) of worms on a mission to annihilate the other team[s] of worms. In the process of annihilation, you also get to blow other things up, like the environment for example. But this is not the best part of the game. The best part of the game is blowing things up with really wacky weapons, like flying SuperSheep that explode when they touch ground.


Now, after a successful bout of sales in the console market, the developers of the Worms series (Team17) are looking to sell another 2D variant exclusively on Steam. This game, entitled Worms: Reloaded will be an extended edition of the console versions of lateand thus will be similar to Worms: Open Warfare or the Worms for XBLA and PSN.


However, that is the end of conjecture as there has not been any sufficient development where news is concerned. Stay tuned for more updates as Team17 irons out issues and eventually launches it on Steam. Until then try not to kill yourself in the excitement!