Survival of the sickest: Chapter 5 and 6

What did you think about the reading?

Definitely one of my favorite chapters, “Of Microbes and Men”, kept me thinking and allowed me to explore even deeper into diseases and evolution. Learning about the parasitic worms and how they can control a host was incredible. Who knew we had more foreign microbial cells in our body than mammalian cells? Part three, including “Of Microbes and Men” as well as “Jump into the Gene Pool” taught me much more and had so many interesting aspects. I didn’t think the book would get any better, but surprisingly, it did!

What did you learn?

I actually learned a lot…A LOT! I’ll talk about what I learned in my personal favorite chapter, “Of Microbes and Men.” So catchy, almost as if they were trying to make it sound like “Of Mice and Men.” Well, I learned that much of our body is made up of foreign organisms that play a crucial role in our survival, for example in our digestive system. Dr. Moalem also explained that the not so nice bacteria that can cause meningitis, toxic shock syndrome, and pneumonia also live in our bodies. Good to know! What I thought was incredible was the parasitic wasp that was able to manipulate a spider to allow the wasps larva to live off it and for the spider to make a stronger web. How the wasp injected chemicals that changed the spiders behavior is a huge mystery to me. Another incredible creature is the parasitic hairworm known as Spinochordodes tellinii. This parasite lives inside a grasshopper, and when it grows to adulthood, it causes the grasshopper to jump into water and die, allowing the worm to swim off and reproduce. Let’s see, I also learned about T.gondi which I had some slight previous knowledge. The chapter began to talk about how we are influenced by diseases and what it causes us to do. For example, cholera causes diarrhea, and the reason for this is to help it reproduce. This is the only reason diseases cause you to act in certain ways. As I read through this chapter, I was intrigued at how much more I learned, and really how we are influenced by other organisms. Before I begin talking about the next chapter, I want to point out something pretty interesting, as well. As evolution goes on, our behavior and what influences us actually changes evolution, and can lead to different ways people act. Though, if we control the way we act and behave, evolution could be beneficial to us.

Chapter 6, “Jump into the Gene Pool,” was quite interesting as well. It began talking about cowpox and also some background information about us and our genes. Then, it quickly jumped in to talking about this “junk DNA,” which actually happens to not really be “junk.” The junk DNA actually plays a very important role in our evolution, and about 1/3 of our DNA comes from viruses. Yeah, what we have to adapt to and become immune to actually shaped us. I’m talking about viruses and bacteria. The rest of the chapter focused a lot on jumping genes. I learned that these jumping genes change our DNA through evolution. Evolutionary pressure actually causes this, and therefore, jumping genes are extremely important. Oh, and one quick fact. Lamarck was more of a philosopher than a scientist, and it turns out he didn’t really come up with the theory of acquired traits. Most of the story is actually a lie that has continued to be told.

What questions do you still have?

I actually could ask a million questions, but obviously I won’t. Really, I would just like to know a little bit more about how parasites actually are able to manipulate organisms. How did they learn what to do? And, why this specific organism and not a different one? One other general question I have has to do with jumping genes. Is there a way we could figure out how to use jumping genes to genetically modify ourselves? Do they have to follow evolution and pressure?

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