This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society

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“Engrossing … [An] expedition through the hidden and sometimes horrifying microbial domain.” —Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating—and full of the kind of factoids you can't wait to share.” —Scientific American
 

Parasites can live only inside another animal and, as Kathleen McAuliffe reveals, these tiny organisms have many evolutionary motives for manipulating the behavior of their hosts. With astonishing precision, parasites can coax rats to approach cats, spiders to transform the patterns of their webs, and fish to draw the attention of birds that then swoop down to feast on them. We humans are hardly immune to their influence. Organisms we pick up from our own pets are strongly suspected of changing our personality traits and contributing to recklessness and impulsivity—even suicide. Germs that cause colds and the flu may alter our behavior even before symptoms become apparent.
 
Parasites influence our species on the cultural level, too. Drawing on a huge body of research, McAuliffe argues that our dread of contamination is an evolved defense against parasites. The horror and revulsion we are programmed to feel when we come in contact with people who appear diseased or dirty helped pave the way for civilization, but may also be the basis for major divisions in societies that persist to this day. This Is Your Brain on Parasites is both a journey into cutting-edge science and a revelatory examination of what it means to be human.
 
“If you’ve ever doubted the power of microbes to shape society and offer us a grander view of life, read on and find yourself duly impressed.” —Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum 
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About the author

KATHLEEN MCAULIFFE is a contributing editor to Discover. Her work has appeared in over a dozen national magazines, including Discover, the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, and Smithsonian. From 1999 to 2006, she was also a health columnist for More. Her work has been published in Best American Science Writing, and has received several grants and awards, including a science writing fellowship from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. She has appeared numerous times on TV and radio, and was interviewed by To the Point, the nationally syndicated Osgood FIle, and other programs after her 2012 Atlantic feature "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy" became the second most widely read article in the magazine's history. McAuliffe lives in Miami with her husband—a research physicist—and her two children.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Published on
Jun 7, 2016
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780544193222
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / Microbiology
Psychology / Psychopathology / Schizophrenia
Science / Life Sciences / Microbiology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The groundbreaking science behind the surprising source of good health

Stanford University’s Justin and Erica Sonnenburg are pioneers in the most exciting and potentially transformative field in the entire realm of human health and wellness, the study of the relationship between our bodies and the trillions of organisms representing thousands of species to which our bodies play host, the microbes that we collectively call the microbiota. The microbiota interacts with our bodies in a number of powerful ways; the Sonnenburgs argue that it determines in no small part whether we’re sick or healthy, fit or obese, sunny or moody. The microbiota has always been with us, and in fact has coevolved with humans, entwining its functions with ours so deeply, the Sonnenburgs show us, humans are really composite organisms having both microbial and human parts. But now, they argue, because of changes to diet, antibiotic over-use, and over-sterilization, our gut microbiota is facing a “mass extinction event,” which is causing our bodies to go haywire, and may be behind the mysterious spike in some of our most troubling modern afflictions, from food allergies to autism, cancer to depression. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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From the Hardcover edition.
"Eyeopening... Fascinating... may presage a paradigm shift in medicine.” 
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     The Human Superorganism makes a sweeping, paradigm-shifting argument. It demolishes two fundamental beliefs that have blinkered all medical thinking until very recently: 1) Humans are better off as pure organisms free of foreign microbes; and 2) the human genome is the key to future medical advances. The microorganisms that we have sought to eliminate have been there for centuries supporting our ancestors. They comprise as much as 90 percent of the cells in and on our bodies—a staggering percentage! More than a thousand species of them live inside us, on our skin, and on our very eyelashes. Yet we have now significantly reduced their power and in doing so have sparked an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases—which now account for 63 percent of all human deaths. 

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From the Hardcover edition.
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