Saturday, May 29, 2010

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

Parasites are terrifying, interesting, and oddly enjoyable to read about. There are ones that castrate crabs (Sacculina carcini), ones that explode red blood cells (Plasmodium falciparum, commonly known as malaria), and ones whose larvae chew their way out of caterpillars (Copidosa floridanum). They have even influenced evolution and human culture. (It is possible that the symbol for medicine, the caduceus, is reminiscent of the cure for guinea worms.)

Zimmer ends the book with a disturbing thought; what if humans are the parasites on the face of the earth? Parasites are only as successful as they can learn to do minimal harm and keep their host alive. As he puts it, "If we want to succeed as parasites, we need to learn from the masters." I could not agree more.

Bonus for anyone who actually is reading this summary: NY Times op-ed contributor recently posted this about parasites. And thanks to Terry for the loan.

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