A dream come true for TV insect doctor James
Published: 25 Oct 2012 09:290 comments
But for James, his love of bugs and of science all stems from his East Lothian childhood spent in and around North Berwick.
Growing up first at Fenton Barns and then in North Berwick, James became so entranced by the little creatures that live all around us that he started up a wildlife club at the age of seven at Dirleton Primary School.
His interest then nurtured further by his biology teacher at North Berwick High School, James proceeded to study zoology at the University of Aberdeen, then his PhD in London, and now he runs his own research group at the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
But he is best known for his TV appearances, most notably on the hit Channel 4 health show Embarrassing Bodies, as well as The One Show and Bang Goes the Theory on the BBC, for whom he is currently working on a new series about insects. James, 33, told the Courier that sharing his love of insects with a wider audience was a dream come true.
"I've always been interested in insects and I was always the kid who would be running into the house with handfuls of worms, making people scream," he said.
"Later I got more into the health aspect of it, and what I'm doing now is combining my love of animals and insects with doing something which makes a difference to people, so it's really a bonus."
James was first able to get his name known in 2006 when he completed his award-winning PhD investigating why some people are bitten more often than others by mosquitoes and midges.
But even armed with the information he discovered on the topic, he warned that a fool-proof repellent was still a tough ask.
"Basically some people don't get bitten because they're producing natural repellents," James explained. "We are all attractive because we're producing carbon dioxide which attracts the insects but those few people who never get bitten are producing something different.
"Those chemicals [that they are producing] are a repellent and we're now developing them into a product.
"These things are really hard to stop biting you though, especially on the west coast of Scotland where there's so many it's just a nightmare!
"But [what's being developed now] works as well as anything else on the shelf."
James' research work has also extended to his TV appearances, including deliberately infecting himself with a hookworm on Embarrassing Bodies to see if it could cure him of a food allergy which means he struggles to eat bread.
Amazingly, it did just that, and James explained that trials were now taking place at universities, with the hope being that a drug could be developed from the hookworm's saliva that would have the same effect.James is currently filming for a new series of Embarrassing Bodies - due to be broadcast in the new year - and said that he would be subjecting himself to similar experiments.
"What I love about doing Embarrassing Bodies is that I get across a health message to people who aren't particularly interested in science," he explained of his time on the show.
"Science is part of everyday life, everything single thing we do is affected by science in one way or another, and through the show I'm getting little bits of information across to people."
As well as the new series of Embarrassing Bodies, James is working on a number of projects with the LSHTM, including investigating how malarial parasites change the body odour of their victims to make them more attractive to malarial mosquitoes. He is also investigating controlling dengue fever in Thailand and the bluetongue virus which affects cattle in India.
While closer to home he is also filming for a new BBC programme called Insect Dissection, where he will explain what makes insects work. The show is set to be broadcast in February and will also be shown in the USA.
James describes Insect Dissection as a "really exciting programme" and said that one of the highlights was being able to return to Scotland for some of the filming.
Indeed, James' love of his home country, and North Berwick in particular, is such that he says he would "move back in a heartbeat" if he were able to do his work from the town.
But in the meantime he has to make do with regular visits to East Lothian, where parents George and Barbara run taxi firm Jim's Taxis, while younger sister Carol lives in Aberlady, and older sister Wendy in Edinburgh.