People, Parasites, and Plowshares: Learning from Our Body*amp*apos;s Most Terrifying Invaders
Dixon D. Despommier
Columbia University Press, 2013 ($28.95)
Reading this book may make your skin crawl. Despommier, an emeritus professor of public health and microbiology at Columbia University, describes the biological feats of creatures that parasitize humans. The facts are horrifying and fascinating: the worm larvae that cause trichinosis, a disease caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, burrow into muscle tissue and instruct cells to build calcified cysts that serve as the worms' homes. The good news is that researchers can co-opt for our benefit the chemical arsenal that parasites wield. For example, a microscopic worm (right) that lurks in tropical waters can coat itself with human proteins and hide from our immune system. Perhaps scientists could harness this cloaking method to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. As Despommier argues, these body snatchers deserve respect.