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A DANCING MATRIX by Robin Marantz Henig

A DANCING MATRIX

Voyages Along the Viral Frontier

By Robin Marantz Henig

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-58878-9
Publisher: Knopf

 How and why new viruses ``emerge,'' their possible impact on humanity's future, and what scientists are doing about it. When a virus emerges, it moves out of its original niche in nature and begins infecting a new population. Science writer Henig (coauthor, Your Premature Baby, 1983, etc.) looks at this phenomenon and makes some judgments about the interdisciplinary approach that biology will require to understand and deal with it. Contrary to the scenario of Michael Crichton's inventive The Andromedra Strain, she explains, viruses from outer space aren't the threat; exposure to new viruses is more likely to occur through changes in the environment or in our relationship to the environment--for example, from global warming, urbanization, or road-building in rain forests. Henig provides some fascinating case studies revealing how viruses have crossed from one species to another with deadly effect, and she examines briefly the possible link between viruses and chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Mutations are another means by which new virus strains emerge, and Henig warns that a new influenza pandemic is likely to strike before the century's end. On an upbeat note, she explores how scientists are now taming viruses, ``mankind's tiniest and perhaps most complicated foe,'' and using them in gene therapy. In conclusion, she warns that it's not enough for microbiologists in the laboratory to understand the molecular genetics of a virus; if future epidemics like AIDS or worse are to be prevented, fieldwork and the combined skills of entomologists, anthropologists, veterinarians, and others will be required. Complex science made not just accessible but wholly fascinating, and communicated with a sense of urgency yet without sensationalism. (Seven illustrations--not seen.)