Mitochondria are specialized subunits of those cells which contain nuclei, or eukaryotic cells, whose basic function is to provide energy for the cells with which to do their thing, as well as in assisting with other functions, such as controlling the cell cycle, the cell growth and the cell death. The word mitochondrion comes from the Greek words for thread and granule. Mitochondrial genes are not inherited the same way as their nucleic brethren. Basically, mitochondria are matrilineal, meaning they receive most of their genes from their mama. What does manage to get through from the sperm is marked for termination and later destruction inside the embryo.
Imagine, if you will, a mitochondrion that goes wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
Toshiaki Nagashima has a job that he loves, as a research associate at the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and a wife, Kiyomi, that he adores. Life is very very good. Until he receives the phone call telling him that his wife has been involved in a traffic accident, having run into a tree, and is feared to be brain dead. Kiyomi is on the list of kidney donors, and immediately matches are sought for her kidneys, so that the donees can be put on standby, prepared for transplant. One of these is a 14 year old girl, Mariko Anzai. Mariko had been a transplant recipient just a few months before, having received a kidney from her father. But it had not worked out, and she is back on the list. When the call arrives about the new transplant, Mariko doesn't tell her father about it, as if she doesn't wish to go through another transplant. But why?
All the tests come back that Kiyomi is indeed brain dead, as her husband and her parents wait for news. Although she has signed up to be a donor, it is still required to gain the consent of the next of kin, which is Toshiaki. The grief-stricken man, consumed by an overwhelming heat which makes his head spin, consents, but with one stipulation - in exchange for giving up Kiyomi's kidneys, he wants her liver, to use for a primary culture. The doctor warily agrees.
Dr. Takashi Yoshizumi is notified by the transplant coordinator, Odagiri, of the donor at the university hospital. He is the surgeon that performed Mariko's other transplant, the one that failed. He is determined that this one will be successful, as he begins his preparations. This type of transplant is trickier than one from a live donor - Japan has an extremely high dialysis patient-to-transplant ratio as compared to Europe and America, because of public unease in regarding brain death as actual death. They are operating on a tricky timeline now - they must wait for the patient to suffer actual heart failure, and then extract the organs as quickly as possible to send them to where they need to go. They are being split, one going to Mariko, one to someone else. And once Kiyomi dies, that is just what happens, with her husband receiving her liver. He slices it up, and breaks it down to its constituent cells, placing them in test tubes which he labels "Eve" - because his wife's birthday is on Christmas Eve.
Mariko has issues which neither Dr. Yoshizumi nor her father understand. It's almost as if she doesn't want the transplant, but why would that be? When the doctor removes the kidneys from Kiyomi, he too feels a strange heat that he cannot explain. But he continues, and transplants one into Mariko, determined that this one will not fail. Meanwhile, Toshiaki has begun experimenting on the Eve cells, becoming obsessed with them, as if through them, his wife is still alive. Maybe it's just a way to comfort himself over her death - or maybe there's more to it than he realizes. It seems that there is an entity, something as old as life itself, something in the mitochondria - something that IS the mitochonria - which is determined to have its way and become the ascendant life form on the planet. Nothing is coincidental, it has all been fiendishly coordinated and arranged and set into motion by . . . HER. Who is she, what does she want, and what will she do to get it? And what's this about a child?
Parasite Eve is a chilling picture of good science gone wrong, mixed with the best of Japanese what if science fiction and horror. It begins slowly, normally, setting the stage for what will be, and an elaborate stage it is as we learn more about cellular structure and growth than is usually found in a work of fiction. The characters emerge from this warm amoeba soup, taking shape and form before our very eyes - Toshiaki, the tortured doctor/lover whose life has come to a screeching halt with the death of his beloved Kiyomi and who is attempting to resurrect her after a fashion, through the maintaining of her cells, but whose idea is that truly?; Mariko, the young girl whose previous transplant failed because she stopped taking her anti-rejection medicine, for reasons known only to herself, and who is suffering horrible nightmares, convinced that someone or something is after her, and that there is no one that can or will protect her; Dr. Yoshizumi, the brilliant transplant physician, who is determined that this transplant shall not fail; Sachiko Asakura, a second year master's student whom Toshiaki is mentoring, who becomes suspicious of the work he is doing with the strange cells, worrying about his obsession with them; and HER, the nameless form which is the driving force behind everything that is happening, with the intent of taking over the world, using mitochondria.
I admit to not having a detailed science background, and to having a lot of the scientific explanations go over my head, but even so, I understood enough to be interested and amazed at what goes on in the story. Hideaki Sena lulls us into a false sense of security with the slow start, I think, although he tugs at our minds now and then with hints of what is to come, as if to say dont be deluded entirely, pay attention, there may be a quiz later. And when the horror begins to unfold, you can just imagine that you are watching a Japanese horror film in its chilling execution. By that point, you will find yourself turning the pages in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. Parasite Eve is a very interesting read. Although categorized for Young Adult, I see it as being enjoyable by adults as well. I certainly did. It was the inspiration for two video games, with a third one being in the works that is supposedly to be released only for PSP. There are a lot of interesting concepts in this book, about cells as well as the origins of the species. I bet you won't look at mitrochondria the same way again.