Will You Still Eat Raw Fish After Watching This Video?


Hey smart people, Joe here.

What do poke, sushi and sashimi, and all these dishes have in common?

Theyre delicious.

Theyre made with raw fish.

And they could all give you parasites.


The ocean is a parasite playground.

That warning about raw or undercooked fish at the bottom of every menu?

It’s there for a reason.

At least 15,000 different species of wormy parasites use fish as a host.

Raw fish dishes like sashimi are, wellraw.

Theyre never cooked--which means any parasites or parasite eggs in the fish can end up in

our tummies.

In case youre wondering, let me make this next part extra clear for ya: Parasites are

so common in fish, if youve eaten raw fish more than a few times, youve almost definitely

eaten a parasite egg.

The real question isdid it hatch?


Ok, so Anisakis is one of the parasites you could get from eating sashimi.

One investigation found that 10% of salmon sushi sampled from Seattle restaurants contained

dead Anisakis worms.

Now, if that raw fish is treated according to regulations--previously frozen for at least

7 days at -20 degrees C -- then the parasites and the eggs should all be dead.

But that means you did still definitely eat them.

If the fish isn’t frozen correctly or it’s eaten fresh, viable worms and eggs can make

it into your gut.

Like all parasites, these worms live in a carefully evolved life cycle: The eggs are

released into the ocean through marine mammal poop, which are then eaten by crustaceans,

which are then eaten by fish.

When people eat this fish, we interrupt this natural cycle, and the nematode worm larvae

can take up residence inside our throat, stomach, or intestinal lining instead.

On rare occasions people report feeling a tingling after eating sushi--that’s not

the wasabi people, it’s worms!

Well, it’s probably wasabi.

But it COULD be worms!

Of course parasites don’t have to be worms, they can come in a ton of forms from microbes

to ticks to plants to fungi.

Humans have recognized the weirdness of parasites for a long time, from the ancient Greeks and

Egyptians to the Chinese.

The first written records show up on medical papyruses from ancient Egypt, and weve

found parasite eggs in actual 3000 year old mummies.

Theyre even described in the Bible.

The 'fiery serpents' mentioned in the Old Testament are thought to be an early description

of a painful condition caused by Guinea worms.

But back thendoctorsdidn’t understand how people actually got parasites.

In the 17th century, folks thought parasites just spontaneously generated in the human

body because they never saw the worms go in, they only ever saw the worms come outif

you know what I’m sayin.

Of course now we know parasites don’t have to go in as whole worms.

You only need to eat their eggs.

That’s how the life cycle of another ocean parasite goes: Euuuuve gotta be kidding

me, I can’t say that name.

THAT thing resides in salt marshes off the California coast.

It gets passed around by three different hosts: Birds poop out the parasite eggs, and the

eggs get eaten by horn snails.

Then the parasite castrates the snail and reproduces inside it.

Then, the parasite swims out of the snail, and into the gills of the unsuspecting California


It digs through the gills and into the fish’s head, where it weaves a little parasite carpet

over the little fish’s brain.

Killifish that are infected with parasites jerk around and swim near the surface of the

water, which make birds THIRTY times more likely to snatch that killifish up for a snack

than one that isn’t infected with parasites.

The parasites are promoting their own survivalby getting the fish eaten.

Finally, after the fish get munched, the parasites burst out into the birdsguts and the cycle

starts all over again.

Now, that is the circle of life.

Ok, so fish are one thing.

But parasites are everywhere, land, sea, even air--they make up as many as half of all animal


Scientists think more than 200 different forms of parasitism have evolved independently from

one another.

It’s difficult to even estimate the number of parasites on Earth because they can come

in so many forms.

From the beginning of multicellular life on Earth, parasites have been locked in quiet

evolutionary arms races with almost everything living in their environment.

Hosts and parasites always trying to stay one step ahead of each other.

And here’s the thing: Even if youve never gotten sick from eating worm-infected sushi,

parasites have impacted your life.

Human DNA is full of battle scars from our speciespast run-ins with parasites.

One of the most famous and nasty parasites out there is Plasmodium vivax, carried by

mosquitoes, it’s responsible for millions of cases of malaria a year.

Today, a whopping 99% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa have a specific type of

a protein receptor on their red blood cells that doesn’t allow the parasite to gain


They evolved a natural malaria parasite defense!

We think this change in the genome only took 8000 years to become widespread in that region,

meaning it must have been much easier to survive in the environment with that variant of the

gene than without it.

Parasites cause us harm, so the simple and obvious answer is that getting rid of them

is a good thing, but biology is rarely simple and obvious.

Preserving parasites could be more important than we realize.

Let’s return to the California salt marshes and see what happens if we disrupt the parasite


Snails that aren’t infected reproduce super quickly.

This could lead to fewer plants, fewer fish, less for birds to eatby messing with a

parasite, weve broken the ecosystem.

This is important because parasites are actually at risk--climate change could cause the extinction

of one third of them by 2070.

Parasites are often gross, but they are critical to keeping balance in ecosystems--and we aren’t

even close to knowing how diverse the parasite world really is.

The conservation of parasites doesn’t inspire a warm and fuzzy feeling.

But it’s just as important to the environment that we save not only the whalesbut also

the worms inside their guts.

Sushi anyone?

Stay curious.