The Wild Life Of Our Bodies

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Our bodies, minds, and societies are haunted by the nature we left behind, according to The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today. In this the finely researched and eloquent book, biologist Rob Dunn explains,

We often view ourselves as separate from nature, but here is the rub: Our cultures have changes. Our behaviors have changed. Our diets have changed. Our medicine has changed. But our bodies are the same, essentially unaltered from 6,000 generations ago, when going for a run meant chasing after a wounded animal or fleeing a healthy one, water was drank out of cupped hands, and the sky still cracked wide open to reveal millions of stars, white dots as unexplainable as existence itself. Our bodies remember who we are.

Whether writing about villages terrorized by man-eating tigers or people so wracked by illness they dose themselves with parasites, Dunn’s work is a page-turner. A few facts gleaned from this enticing book to tantalize potential readers.

*Amylase, one of the enzymes in our saliva, aids in the breakdown of starches. Some people have up to 16 times more amylase than others, and may extract more energy from the same amount of dietary starches. As Dunn writes, “One man’s survival gene is another’s belly roll.”

*Disgust has a biological basis. Simply viewing a photo of diseased individuals can ramp up our immune response. And people living in areas where pathogens are more prevalent tend to be less culturally and individually open, perhaps to protect against illness.

*Our appendix, long thought to be vestigial, contains immune tissue and antibodies. It may be an incubator of beneficial bacteria, necessary to replenish the gut after a challenge by pathogens.

Check out Dunn’s blog. Science writing this good will whet your appetite for this book as well as his first, Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys.

 

Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.