26 Jan, 2017 590 Animals (Zoology)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are mistletoe and trees, hookworms and vertebrates, cuckoos and other birds. In many cases the parasite species do so well in or on a particular host that they reproduce much faster and can adapt to changes more efficiently, and it is thought that almost half of all animal species have a parasitic stage in their lifetime. What techniques do hosts have to counter the parasites, and what impact do parasites have on the evolution of their hosts?

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Steve Jones 22 episodes
    Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College, London
  • Wendy Gibson No other episodes
    Professor of Protozoology at the University of Bristol
  • Kayla King No other episodes
    Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford

Reading list

  • New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People
    Robert S. Desowitz (W. W. Norton & Company, 1987) Google Books →
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years
    Jared Diamond (Vintage, 1998) Google Books →
  • Parasites and Infectious Disease: Discovery by Serendipity and Otherwise
    Gerald W. Esch (Cambridge University Press, 2007) Google Books →
  • Parasitism: The Diversity and Ecology of Animal Parasites
    Timothy M. Goater, Cameron P. Goater, Gerald W. Esch (Cambridge University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Evolution: A Ladybird Expert Book
    Steve Jones (Michael Joseph, 2017) Google Books →
  • The Microbe Hunters
    Paul de Kruif (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) Google Books →
  • The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
    Matt Ridley (Penguin, 1994) Google Books →
  • Evolutionary Parasitology: The Integrated Study of Infections, Immunology, Ecology, and Genetics
    Paul Schmid-Hempel (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures
    Carl Zimmer (Simon & Schuster, 2002) Google Books →
  • Rats, Lice and History
    Hans Zinsser (Transaction Publishers, 2008) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b08bb9cy

Episode page:

Auto-category: 590 (Zoological sciences)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. All humans play host to countless parasites, if not visibly on the surface, then internally and between the cells or inside the cells themselves.