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People, Parasites, and Plowshares

People, Parasites, and Plowshares: Learning From Our Body's Most Terrifying Invaders

Foreword by William C. Campbell
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    People, Parasites, and Plowshares
    Book Description:

    Dickson D. Despommier's vivid, visceral account of the biology, behavior, and history of parasites follows the interplay between these fascinating life forms and human society over thousands of years. Despommier focuses on long-term host-parasite associations, which have evolved to avoid or even subvert the human immune system. Some parasites do great damage to their hosts, while others have signed a kind of "peace treaty" in exchange for their long lives within them. Many parasites also practice clever survival strategies that medical scientists hope to mimic as they search for treatments for Crohn's disease, food allergies, type 1 diabetes, organ transplantation, and other medical challenges.

    Despommier concentrates on particularly remarkable and often highly pathogenic organisms, describing their lifecycles and the mechanisms they use to avoid elimination. He details their attack and survival plans and the nature of the illnesses they cause in general terms, enabling readers of all backgrounds to steal a glimpse into the secret work of such effective invaders. He also points to the cultural contexts in which these parasites thrive and reviews the current treatments available to defeat them. Encouraging scientists to continue to study these organisms even if their threat is largely contained, Despommier shows how closer dissection of the substances parasites produce to alter our response to them could help unravel some of our most complex medical conundrums.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53526-7
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Biological Sciences, Geology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    William C. Campbell

    No less a genius than Alfred North Whitehead was of the opinion that one is unlikely to have new ideas after the age of 60, but one can still make good use of the ideas one already has. It is no secret that Dr. Dickson Despommier’s genius has been more than sixty years in the making, yet in his conversation new ideas burst forth like bullets from a machine gun. Many of his friends have experienced the phenomenon firsthand—an experience that his former colleague Dr. George Stewart has referred to as being “dicksonized.” The book People, Parasites, and Plowshares,...

    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. 1 THIS NEW HOUSE: Trichinella spiralis
    (pp. 1-22)

    All parasites fall into just two groups. They are either short-lived (days to weeks), or long-lived (months to years). The first group holds little interest for me, since they have invested so little evolutionary creativity scheming up ways to live inside us without killing or seriously hurting us in the process. They simply get in and do their job; reproduction at all costs. In the end, either we kill them or they kill us, and that’s that. The malarias (Plasmodia) fall into this category, and so do Giardia and Entamoeba histolytica, although these three can occasionally linger for up to...

  8. 2 HOOKED ON PARASITES: Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus
    (pp. 23-42)

    The War Between the States had been over for some forty years, but reconstruction was going much too slowly, especially for John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Each year he would ride in his sumptuously appointed private rail car, sometimes with a few close friends (Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, for example), to Florida for his annual winter vacation. Rumor has it that all the way down and back, the group would commiserate about the southern white folk’s apparent lack of ambition. These captains of industry adhered to the belief that it was this singular behavior that was responsible for holding back...

  9. 3 HOUDINI’S NEFARIOUS COUSINS: The Trypanosomes, the Schistosomes, and the Lymphatic Filariae
    (pp. 43-74)

    Long-lived parasites have somehow, despite our best efforts, learned how to thumb their noses at our immune system, escaping detection by a wide variety of mechanisms. I have already documented the lives of two long-lived groups of nematode parasites, Trichinella spiralis and the hookworms. Here are some more, each employing a completely different mechanism to achieve the same goal: a long and productive life at our expense. Some of them crawl into places we cannot reach with our potent antibodies and activated immune cells, while others cover themselves with our own serum proteins and pretend they are us. A few...

  10. 4 A PARASITE FOR ALL SEASONS: Toxoplasma gondii
    (pp. 75-88)

    When it comes to parasitism, even Carly Simon would agree that nobody does it better than Toxoplasma gondii. Nobody! The proof is in knowing the distribution of this obligate intracellular protozoan parasite. Members of nearly every species of mammal and numerous kinds of birds—in fact, all warm-blooded animals—have been found to harbor the infection. No other eukaryotic parasite can claim this degree of global distribution or breadth and depth of host range. What’s more, in each infected animal, virtually every cell is susceptible to invasion by this highly promiscuous pathogen. While nearly all intracellular parasites (all viruses and...

  11. 5 THE UNHOLY TRINITY: Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and the Hookworms
    (pp. 89-112)

    Shortly after life arose, around 3.55 billion years ago, all of Earth’s free-living organisms were soon face to face with pathogens. Most likely, these early parasites were viruses. As life continued on its inexorable journey toward complex multicellular creatures, these parasites, not wanting to be left behind, followed suit and evolved right alongside the other organisms. The well-worn expression “Nature abhors a vacuum” rings particularly true when we try to imagine how many species must have lived over the billions of years that life has existed on this planet. Even more mind-boggling, at least to a parasitologist, is trying to...

  12. 6 THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT: Tapeworms—Taenia saginata, Taenia solium, Diphyllobothrium latum, Echinococcus granulosus, and Echinococcus multilocularis
    (pp. 113-146)

    Tapeworms get their common name from their off-putting resemblance to a white cloth tape measure. But while working in the parasitology diagnostic laboratory during my formative years as a budding microbiologist, I came to know them from an entirely different cultural context: food look-alikes! The adult worms actually present as yellowish-white, long, flat ribbons. When one of the more robust species is piled onto a white shallow dish for examination, it resembles in every way a plate of pasta without the marinara sauce. The only difference comes if the worm is freshly obtained, and thus still alive. Then the dish...

  13. 7 ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELLS: Dracunculus medinensis
    (pp. 147-162)

    The caduceus, classically depicted as a pair of snakes wrapped around a two-winged staff, is a familiar iconic symbol for all things having to do with medicine (fig. 7.1). Even the World Health Organization has incorporated a modified version (one snake and a staff, no wings) as part of its blue and white logo. The origins of the modern caduceus can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks and their richly expressed mythologies. Yet its original form and purpose(s) are considered to be much older, perhaps even dating back to prehistoric times. Over the ages, its basic shape...

    (pp. 163-194)

    What follows are my last two parasite stories, and that is just what they are: stories. I have put them together this way because they deal with various aspects of drug discovery, and they also have application to the field of medical parasitology. I wrote each one as a historically accurate fictional accounting of how these two parasites carry out their lives, the human lives they affect, and how they have contributed in major ways (albeit differently) to the development of therapeutics that are currently in use. While the characters in each episode are fictitious, the places in which their...

    (pp. 195-198)
    (pp. 199-202)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 203-216)