The physiology of life is a magical phenomenon: the more we know about it, the more we realize how little we really know. But what about the mechanisms that keep the non-living “alive”? What about the biological mechanisms of the undead? What about the physiology of vampires?
How do you become a vampire in the first place? Well many of us know the answer to this question: a vampire bite in which blood is exchanged and... Voila! Soon you will be turning pale, fearing the sun, and thirsting for human blood!
The vampire-inducing agent here is, in biomedical terms, a virus. In fact it is a bloodborne virus that ultimately alters your entire blood stream as well as body's physiology. However, this virus is no terminal illness (you’re already dead!); it actually makes you stronger, faster, able to see in the dark, able to fly, and of course, dangerously attractive.
As your body begins to transform into its new (and improved) undead form, your eyes will intensify in color, making them bluer than blue, or greener than green, which will not only help you see at night, but also help you block out some of that wretched sunlight (which you will now have come to loathe). Your canines will sharpen on the ends and elongate from the roots, morphing into your new feeding tools and essentially replacing all forms of cutlery in your life (see, it's even cheaper!).
Now... I’m no dentist, but I assume the retractability of your new fangs is most likely due to muscles that form within your gums that push the teeth out when it's time to feast, and pull them back in when it's time to seduce...
Speaking of seduction, it appears that one unifying trait among the many different types of vampires found in books, TV shows, and movies (and real life?) these days is that on top of their insatiable appetite for human blood, they also have an insatiable sex drive, which could be intensified by the affects of the virus. One of the first and most significant changes to your physiology during this transformation is that your heart stops beating. Seems to make sense if you are no longer living right?
But hold on a second—how do all these male vampires have so much sex without a pulse? There are certain features of male reproductive behavior that require a heavy flow of blood to certain important areas, so how does this work in vampires? We don’t fully know just yet. I tried to get an interview with Edward from Twilight, but his agent has yet to return my calls...
Some vampires can tolerate normal food (though they may not like it), while others cannot. It has been shown that vampires have a preference for the same blood type they were when they were human, and have also been found to use human blood as a mixer with wine, tea, or even to add some taste to their water.
You see, many internal organs lose their use and therefore quickly atrophy shortly after transformation. Now that you live exclusively off of human blood, your internal fatty tissues, liver, spleen, and intestines atrophy as well, which reduces bloating and creates a slimmer, flat-tummied (for girls), six-packed (for guys), new you. This is perfect for seducing unsuspecting human prey!
Becoming a vampire has both pros and cons for your skin. The virus boosts your skin’s elasticity, taking up to 15 years off your actual age (at time of transformation), and remaining un-aged for hundreds of years. If the people at Dove or Jergens knew how this was happening, then believe me, you’d find it in pharmacy skin care sections across the world.
However, the virus also seems to enhance your skin’s absorption of magnesium, making you hyper-sensitive to sunlight. Although your new vampire skin is capable of healing faster than you can get sunburnt, a vampire sunburn is much worse than a human sunburn. If over-exposed to sunlight, a vampire’s epidermis begins to vaporize and immediately burn away. So, next time you find yourself at the supermarket or the pharmacy, look for the sunscreen with SPF 100+, and always remember to wear a hat on a sunny day.
Other traits acquired during vampire transformation such as flight, mind reading, glittering skin, or fluency in Latin despite never having studied it before, are still under heavy scientific investigation.
The Med Beat is looking for feedback on the vampire experience, so please, if you know a vampire or are one yourself, share your thoughts by commenting below!
And, feel free to contact columnists at Unleashed.
Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:
My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!