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The Art of Being a Parasite
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›