Synopses & Reviews
For centuries, parasites have lived in nightmares, horror stories, and in the darkest shadows of science. Now award-winning writer Carl Zimmer takes us on a fantastic voyage into the secret parasite universe we actually live in but haven't recognized. He reveals not only that parasites are the most successful life-forms on Earth, but that they triggered the development of sex, shape ecosystems, and have driven the engine of evolution.
In mapping the parasite universe, Zimmer makes the astonishing observation that most species are parasites, and that almost every animal, including humans, will at one time or another become the home of a parasite. Zimmer shows how highly evolved parasites are and describes the frightening and amazing ingenuity these commando invaders use to devour their hosts from the inside and control their behavior. The sinister Sacculina carcini makes its home in an unlucky crab and proceeds to eat everything but what the crab needs to put food in its mouth, which Sacculina then consumes. When Sacculina finally reproduces, it places its young precisely where the crab would nurture its own progeny, and then has the crab nurture the foster family members. Single-celled Toxoplasma gondi has an even more insidious role, for it can invade the human brain. There it makes men distrustful and less willing to submit to social mores. Women become more outgoing and warm-hearted. Why would a parasite cause these particular personality changes? It seems Toxoplasma wants its host to be less afraid, to be more prone to danger and a violent end -- so that, in the carnage, it will be able to move on to another host.
From the steamy jungles of Costa Rica to the fetid parasite heaven of rebel-held southern Sudan, Zimmer tracks the genius of parasitic life and its impact on humanity. We hosts have developed remarkable defenses against the indomitable parasite: our mighty immune system, our culturally enforced habit of keeping clean, and, perhaps most intriguingly, sex. But this is not merely a book about the evil power of parasitism and how we must defend against it. On the contrary, Zimmer concludes that humankind itself is a new kind of parasite, one that preys on the entire Earth. If we are to achieve the sophistication of the parasites on display here in vivid detail, if we are to promote the flourishing of life in all its diversity as they do, we must learn the ways nature lives with itself, the laws of Parasite Rex.
Zimmer takes readers on a tour of the strange and bizarre world of parasites, including their ability to rewrite DNA, rewire the brain, and genetically engineer viruses as weapons. From the labs of California to the remote areas of the Sudan, "Parasite Rex" outlines the research that is transforming the field of biology. 16-page photo insert. Bibliography.
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE parasites control the minds of their hosts, sending them to their destruction.
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE parasites are masters of chemical warfare and camouflage, able to cloak themselves with their hosts' own molecules.
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE parasites steer the course of evolution, where the majority of species are parasites.
WELCOME TO EARTH.
For centuries, parasites have lived in nightmares, horror stories, and in the darkest shadows of science. Yet these creatures are among the world's most successful and sophisticated organisms. In Parasite Rex, Carl Zimmer deftly balances the scientific and the disgusting as he takes readers on a fantastic voyage. Traveling from the steamy jungles of Costa Rica to the fetid parasite haven of southern Sudan, Zimmer graphically brings to life how parasites can change DNA, rewire the brain, make men more distrustful and women more outgoing, and turn hosts into the living dead.
This thorough, gracefully written book brings parasites out into the open and uncovers what they can teach us about the most fundamental survival tactics in the universe.
About the Author
Carl Zimmer, author of At the Water's Edge, is a frequent contributor to Discover, National Geographic, Natural History, Nature, and Science. He is a winner of the Everett Clark Award for science journalism and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Vein Is a River First sightings of the inner world
- Nature's Criminals
How parasites came to be hated by just about everyone
- Terra Incognita
Swimming through the heart, fighting to the death
inside a caterpillar, and other parasitic adventures
- The Thirty Years' War
How parasites provoke, manipulate, and get intimate
with our immune system
- A Precise Horror
How parasites turn their hosts into castrated slaves,
drink blood, and manage to change the balance of nature
- The Great Step Inward
Four billion years in the reign of Parasite Rex
- Evolution from Within
The peacock's tail, the origin of species, and other battles
against the rules of evolution
- The Two-Legged Host
How Homo sapiens grew up with creatures inside
- How to Live in a Parasitic World
A sick planet, and how the most newly arrived parasite
can be part of a cure
Further Reading and Selected Bibliography