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

Overview

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 ...

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

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Overview

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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Rod Adam

A well-written and fascinating introduction to human parasitology from an intriguing, seldom-used perspective: how we can learn from parasites to achieve medical breakthroughs.

Robert Gwadz

Dickson D. Despommier's approach is unique, easy going, and insightful. His book will appeal to both scientists and laypeople interested in science and medicine -- and will be of particular interest to travelers to exotic places.

Carl Zimmer

There's a lot to learn from a tapeworm. Parasites have evolved stunningly successful strategies for thriving in our bodies for millions of years. Drawing on his long career as a parasitologist, Dickson D. Despommier explores the lessons we can gain from our passengers, creating a fascinating tour of the parasitic world.

Scientific American - Marissa Fessenden

Reading this book may make your skin crawl.... The facts are horrifying and fascinating.... As Despommier argues, these body snatchers deserve respect.

Washington Post

[ People, Parasites, and Plowshares] chronicles the discovery -- and destructive treachery -- of parasites as well as the promise they offer modern medicine in curing a number of diseases.

Discover - Dave Lee

[ People, Parasites, and Plowshares] beautifully balances history and pathology.

American Journal of Tropical Medicine

A rich, fulsome feast. It is also a gift to tropical medicine.

CHOICE

An informative and entertaining view of parasitic life cycle and resulting human diseases.

BioScience - Scott L. Gardner

Despommier's writing is precise, clear, and up to date.... I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in parasitology.

Kirkus Reviews
The ick factor is high--20-foot tapeworms, skin nodules filled with writhing worms, etc.--but for parasitologists, the fellow travelers chronicled in this illuminating book command respect for the artful ways they have managed cohabitation since the dawn of life. Despommier (Emeritus, Public Health and Microbiology/Columbia Univ.; The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, 2010, etc.) writes that his prime interests are not short-lived protozoans like the malaria parasite, deadly though it is. What fascinates him are parasites able to survive in a host for years, inflicting slow but inexorable harm. His specialty has been a species of nematode that causes trichinosis. Once the larvae are ingested, they mature, mate, produce new larvae in the gut and then move out to muscle tissue. There, they fashion a "nurse cell," a fortress that protects the larvae as they grow to the infective stage. Such complex life cycles are typical of parasites and are delineated by Despommier in chapters devoted to hookworm, trypanosomes, lymphatic filariae, tapeworms and other scourges. Some parasites don't have to be eaten or gain entry through a cut or insect bite; they can sneak in along a hair follicle. Others elude immune capture by secretions that suppress immunity or by changing their surface antigens. Despommier highlights these parasite tricks, and he discusses voluntary infection with whipworms to treat autoimmune disease by quieting an overactive immune system. Yes, the infection helps, but eventually, patients mount an immune response to kill the worms, allowing their autoimmune disease to return--all the more reason to search for the key molecules involved. Sadly, parasitic diseases remain highly prevalent, albeit with an occasional success story. Despommier is an excellent popularizer, lacing his accounts of our invaders' ingenuity with history and anecdotes that underscore how grateful a modern society should be for clean drinking water and sanitary facilities.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231161947
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 7/16/2013
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 587,639
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dickson D. Despommier is emeritus professor of public health and microbiology at Columbia University. For thirty-eight years, he taught parasitic diseases to second year medical students at Columbia's medical school. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence from the American Medical Students Association. He is the author of more than seventy peer-reviewed research articles, numerous reviews, and three books, including The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the Twenty-First Century.

William C. Campbell is a retired senior research scientist at Merck, Inc., Rahway, New Jersey. He discovered and helped develop the drugs thiabendazole, ivermectin, and related derivatives. Both parent compounds have helped to reduce or eliminate certain parasitic worm infections in cattle and humans. He is a world renowned expert on drug discovery, a former president of the American Society for Parasitologists, and is currently a RISE associate at Drew University.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword by William C. CampbellPrefaceAcknowledgments1. This New House: Trichinalla spiralis2. Hooked on Parasites: Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus3. Houdini's Nefarious Cousins: The Trypanosomes, the Schistosomes, and the Lymphatic Filariae4. A Parasite for All Seasons: Toxoplasma gondii5. The Unholy Trinity: Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and theHookworms6. The Long and the Short of It: Tapeworms -- Taenia saginata, Taenia solium, Diphyllobothrium latum, Echinococcus granulosus, and Echinococcus multilocularis7. All's Well That Ends Wells: Dracunculus medinensis8. Nature Has All the Answers. What's Your Question?GlossaryFurther ReadingIndex

Columbia University Press

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