Parasite Rex

Posted on January 17, 2008  Comments (7)

Parasite Rex is a great book by Carl Zimmer (one of the bloggers listed in the Curious Cat directory of science blogs). This is the first book read as part of my specific plan to read more about bacteria, cells, virus, genes and the like.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this blog is that I have focused much more on cool things I read. And over time the amazing things I posted about related to these topics made me realize I should put some focused effort to reading more on these topics. Some of the posts that sparked that idea: Tracking the Ecosystem Within UsInner Life of a Cell: Full VersionWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes, People Have More Bacterial Cells than Human Cells, Biological Molecular MotorsEnergy Efficiency of DigestionOld Viruses Resurrected Through DNAMidichloria mitochondriiMicrobesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsHow Bacteria Nearly Destroyed All LifeNew Understanding of Human DNASoil Could Shed Light on Antibiotic ResistanceSymbiotic relationship between ants and bacteria

Parasite Rex was a great place to start. Carl Zimmer is a great writer, and the details on how many parasites there are and how interconnected those parasites are to living systems and how that has affected, and is affecting, us is amazing. And the next book I am reading is also fantastic: Good Germs, Bad Germs. Here is one small example from Parasite Rex, page 196-7:

A person who dies of sickle cell anemia is less likely to pass on the defective gene, and that means the disease should be exceedingly rare. But it’s not – one in four hundred American blacks has sickle sell anemia, and one in ten carries a single copy of the defective gene. The only reason the gene stays in such high circulation is that is also happens to be a defense against malaria.

Malaria is a parasite. One of the amazing things with repeated examples in the book were parasites that seemed to have extremely complicated life cycles (that don’t seem like a great strategy to prosper but obviously work). Where they grow in one life form (an insect or mammal or whatever) but must leave that life form for some other specific life form for the next stage in life (they cannot have descendants without doing so…). Seems like a crazy way to evolve but it happens over and over again.

And many of them, evolved to induce behavior in the first host to make it likely the parasite gets into the next needed host. This phenomenon is one we wrote about (and one of those batch that sparked my quest to learn more about all these related areas): Cats Control Rats … With Parasites.

Here is another similar example (though in this case the parasite just wants to be spread by a bird not take the bird on as the next host) I ran across today: Ant parasite turns host into ripe red berry, biologists discover. This stuff is amazing.

When the ant Cephalotes atratus is infected with a parasitic nematode, its normally black abdomen turns red, resembling the many red berries in the tropical forest canopy. According to researchers, this is a strategy concocted by nematodes to entice birds to eat the normally unpalatable ant and spread the parasite in their droppings.

Related: Finding Protease InhibitorsOne Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’sBlue Moon Butterfly Evolving to Fight ParasiteMore on the Bee Deaths

7 Responses to “Parasite Rex”

  1. Curious Cat » Parasitic Worms Reduce Hay Fever Symptoms
    February 18th, 2008 @ 10:19 am

    “Researchers are seeking to use the ability of the hookworm, Necator americanus, to suppress immune system responses that occur in conditions including Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, asthma and other allergies…”

  2. CuriousCat: One Reason Bacteria Gain Tolerance So Quickly
    February 19th, 2008 @ 7:47 am

    Since bacteria can reproduce remarkably quickly, eliminating all but a small number just means that the new population boom will come from those few, resistant, ancestors.

  3. CuriousCat: Some Bacteria Might Fight Cancer
    February 19th, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

    “The studies also imply that our cleaner, infection-free lifestyles may be contributing to the rise in certain cancers over the last 50 years, scientists say, because they make the immune system weaker or less mature…”

  4. Curious Cat Science Blog » Foreign Cells Outnumber Human Cells in Our Bodies
    November 6th, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    The understanding of the complex interaction is something I came to through reading on the overuse of antibiotics. And the more I read the more interesting it gets…

  5. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Post 2009
    January 1st, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

    […] Parasite Rex […]

  6. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Microcosm by Carl Zimmer
    December 26th, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    […] highly recommend Microcosm, just as I highly recommend Parasite Rex, by Carl […]

  7. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Parasites in the Gut Help Develop a Healthy Immune System
    June 24th, 2010 @ 7:14 am

    […] Parasite Rex is a great book, I have written about previously looking at parasites and their affect on human health. […]

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