What did you think about the reading?
There was no stopping I as I continued to delve into Dr. Moelem’s novel, “Survival of the Sickest.” I have grown to adore his style of writing because it feels like he is talking directly to you. He also keeps the stories interesting, and unlike a textbook, he uses pop culture examples to keep the young readers involved in the story. I was extremely happy when Dr. Moalem referenced the movie “Silence of the Lambs” in the chapter Hey, Bud, can you do me a Fava? because that is one of my father’s favorite movies and I never expected it to be mentioned in a scientific novel. I enjoyed reading the novel so much that I could not stop until I had finished it.
What did you learn?
Dr. Moalem gives so much information, starting with fava beans. He starts by telling the reader the history of fava beans and the warnings of ancient cultures like the Greek and some Middle Eastern cultures not to eat them. Before reading, I had never heard of free radicals, but now I know that they can effect cellular chemistry and cause early cell death, and how chemicals in the body like G6PD repel them. Dr. Moalem then teaches how plants, although immobile, can protect themselves using chemicals like phytoestrogens to harm their predators reproductive capabilities. Dr. Moalem explains the reason why some plants like peppers give a burning sensation because of capsaicin. I found it very interesting that capsaicin does nt affect birds because their stomach wont digest the seeds, so the plants want them to eat the fruit, while it does affect mammals because their digestive system would digest the seeds so plants want to keep them from eating their fruit. IT was also interesting to learn that the different G6PD deficiencies were genetic disorders that prevented the carrier from getting malaria, and the reason fava beans are cultivated in the same places as people with fauvism is because it helps people without the deficiency, prevent themselves from malaria.
The next chapter discusses microbes and their ability to manipulate hosts as if out of a science fiction movie. Dr. Moalem starts with a brief description of a parasitic worm that causes a burning sensation on its hosts skin causing them to get into water where the offspring can go free. An extremely interesting case brought up by Dr. Moalem was that of the species of orb weaving spiders and parasitic wasps. When the wasp stings the spider it lays its eggs inside of it, and when the larva hatch, they start living off the spiders blood. Then, the larva inject chemicals which force the spider to, instead of weave its web, create a special holding place for the larva’s cocoons. After reading that section I had to look it up to make sure that this was a true story and not some mind control syfy novel. Dr. Moalem then uses other examples of host manipulation like a worm that causes an ant to have suicidal behavior, or a parasite that causes a grasshopper to drown itself. There is now evidence that parasites can manipulate us. One theory that was brought up really intrigued me. When I was younger I would have a strep infection every other week, and now I have OCD and anxiety, so when the novel brought up the theory that strep infections trick the body into attacking the basal ganglia so that the host would display repetitive acts, so as to help spread the virus, I was very intrigued. As I kept reading, the novel brings up subjects like superbugs and new ways of fighing them. Dr. Moalem mentions that now it might be smarter for us to try to force diseases like malaria to evolve peacefully like the common cold, which allows us to get up and is not lethal. He gives the idea that if we cold make it more beneficial for the disease to have us out and about.
What questions do you still have?
After reading these chapters, I do not have very many questions about the novel. Although, I am still wondering why, if most of the population of places where malaria is common has the G6PD deficiency, do people in these areas grow fava beans? (I know that it assists in fighting against malaria, but it wont help the people with the deficiency.) Also, I am also curious why?, if a strep infection only last for a few weeks, would it cause a mental disorder like obsessive compulsive disorder which could last the host forever?