Wednesday, March 28, 2007

'Riddled With Life - Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites that Make Us Who We Are' by Marlene Zuk

ISBN: 0151012253
Format: Hardcover, 328pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Price: $25.00

Riddled With Life is full of answers. Ever wonder why some kids develop allergies and some don’t? Can intestinal worms be your friend as well as your foe? And did you know that all animals, including insects, get STDs? It tells you all of that.

Some of those questions I’ve wondered about, if not so much the bug STDs, but even this is interesting thanks to Professor Zuk’s lively and humorous writing style. I have to admit that some of these issues would never have crossed my mind but once brought to my attention provides some fascinating reading. This is the kind of book you read and turn to a friend to ask ‘Did you know?’

Marlene Zuk is an evolutionary biologist at the University of California where she studies parasites and the behavior in a variety of animals. Some of her favorites just happen to be jungle fowl, distant relatives of the commercial chicken, which as noted in chapter seven, ‘Parasites and Picking the Perfect Partner,' play a big part. Professor Zuk was part of a group that studied the effect of parasites and the roles they play between the male and female of a species.

In chapter four ‘The Race with Sex That’s Never Won,’ she talks about the mortality difference between the sexes. Namely that males die much earlier than females in many species, including human beings. Professor Zuk discusses the fact that testosterone plays a huge role because it affects how effective a male’s immune system is.

The STD’s I mentioned? Well in chapter four, ‘When Sex Makes You Sick,’ Professor Zuk talks about how evolution has played a role in the sexual transmitted diseases and parasites in animals. Sometimes being at the top of the food chain limits your views of things and this book definitely broadens those horizons.

Riddled With Life is riddled with wonderful bits of humor, intriguing facts, and some of the best scientific writing. I have to admit that the biology was a struggle for me but that didn’t take away from the reading experience. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will not hesitate to recommend reading about bugs, parasites, and jungle fowl.

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