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The Art of Being a Parasite

4.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226114385
ISBN-10: 0226114384
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If you want to be introduced to the marvelous consequences of the evolution of parasites and their natural history, it would be difficult to find a more fascinating book." - Nature, on the French edition"

About the Author

Claude Combes is professor of animal biology at the University of Perpignan and author of Parasitism: The Ecology and Evolution of Intimate Interactions, published by the University of Chicago Press. Daniel Simberloff is the Nancy Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226114384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226114385
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,663,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The Art of Being a Parasite. Claude Combes, translated by Daniel Simberloff. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2005. 291 pp. $25.00 (0226114384 paper).

Parasitology books are traditionally compendia of the bizarre and macabre-page after page of sinister pathogens infecting obscure hosts and undergoing complex metamorphoses via stages with esoteric names. Combes's book is appropriately replete with these details, covering a wealth of natural history, anatomy, life history and behaviour. What sets this book apart is the way in which this information is presented. Rather than merely catalogued, host-parasite interactions are used to illustrate broad ecological, evolutionary and philosophical discussions. After each chapter, one comes away both with a detailed knowledge of current parasitological research, but also with a deeper and broader grasp of fundamental conceptual issues in the biological sciences generally.

Rather than restricting himself to the usual suspects-nematodes, flukes, trematodes and tapeworms-the reader is presented with an unprecedented breadth of examples. This book is the first parasitology text that considers mitochondria, mycorrhizae and mistletoes; cuckoos, cyanobacteria and chromosomes as worthy examplars of parasitism. Many biologists will be startled to find their study organisms included in a parasitological treatise, and Combes is to be credited for working from such a broad literature base. This breadth makes the emergent generalities and widely supported patterns all the more remarkable.
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Format: Paperback
The term "parasite" usually evokes the image of some little critter feasting off some "host" unable to reject it or cast it away. Claude Combes wishes us to revise that simplistic description in favour of a more realistic view. "Parasitism" needs better definition. He prefers a more descriptive term, "mutualism" which covers more biological territory. In this wonderfully conceived and beautifully written account of what science has learned about parasites, he explains how species interact, sometimes to mutual benefit.

The "art" of being a parasite resides in their evolutionary history. Some creatures, once free-living, have managed to occupy others at various surface contact areas or internally. The mitochondria in our cells, the "energy engines" were clearly once free-living bacteria. Invading cells, they paid a "rent" of genes donated to the main genome in the nucleus. The arrangement is apparently incomplete, as mitochondria still make bids for independence. In some cases, the intruder merely occupies the host, generally on its way to another species to enter its reproductive phase. Other invaders proved to interact so well with their hosts that they have become entirely dependent on each other for survival. Combes lays all these situations out for us, describing the process as part of the "evolutionary arms race". That arms race has other applications such as predator-prey interaction, but the result in that scenario has no mutual benefit - the predator wins, eating the prey, or loses and goes hungry.

The key to parasite-host relations lies in two filters. The invader must pass an encounter filter, which might reflect little more than availability. If a potential host is not close to the parasite, there's nothing to attach itself to.
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Format: Paperback
Many books on evolution are difficult to read, leaving the reader skimming for chapters relevant to the paper he or she is writing - but not this one! I literally read it in a day. That's not to say that it's a simple read, because it's certainly not, especially for those folks used to thinking of the parasites as nasty buggers (from the host perspective) rather than a more objective, biological perspective of just another organism trying to maximize its fitness. I was thrilled with the treatment this book gives to clonal and kin selection, as well as the macabre-sounding phenomena of host manipulation by the parasite. I recommend it to any higher-level undergraduates as well as graduate students interested in mutualism (as the author puts it), which is just one wonderful form of many interspecific interactions. Therefore, pretty much every biologist should read it; your regard for parasites will be forever changed.
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The worm on the cover of this book is upside down. The anterior end is generally displayed upward, and is not. Posthodiplostomum minimum has had similar confusion in the past with papers published from researchers like Agersborg, but these should not be taken as fact without due research and review.
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