Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Toxoplasma gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasitic protozoan whose primary hosts are cats; however they can infect most warm-blooded organisms, though generally are not able to propagate in many of these hosts. In their hosts they encyst within both muscle and brain tissue. Because they live within the cells themselves the immune system generally will not notice them. They then pass their oocytes (egg cells) out through the feces of the cat. It is here where it can infect its next host. Its prime intermediate hosts are rodents such as rats and mice. In these, they display the best known form of mind control.

Naturally rats are afraid of the smell of cats, especially certain chemicals in their urine. But once Toxoplasma takes hold, infected rats actually will go seeking out this scent and hang around the location as if they are waiting for the cat to show up. And once a cat does, instead of following its instinct to run like hell they have been known to even walk right up to them. The cat, being slightly confused, decides not to look a gift rat in the mouth and eats the brain washed rodent.

This adorable image brought to you by a mind controlling parasite.

But evolution wasn’t satisfied with just fucking with the brains of tiny rodents. Remember that thing a bit ago about Toxoplasma being able to infect most warm blooded animals? Well for those of you who didn’t flunk biology, you might be saying to yourself “Wait, I’m a warm blooded animal”. Not only would you be right, but there is a pretty good chance you have a very personal relationship with this tiny monstrosity. The numbers are a bit sketchy but some studies hold that about 50% of humans are infected with Toxoplasma. The less paranoid of you may have come to the seemingly rational conclusion that while this is a terrifying number, they are, with few exceptions, not a rat and therefore safe. Well I hate to be the one to tell you but studies have shown that Toxoplasma may very well be affecting you too. Studies have shown that this parasite has been linked with distrustfulness and greater risk taking behavior in males as well as causing females to be more outgoing and warmhearted. It has even been suggested that if the parasite is passed on to the fetus it may increase the probability of schizophrenia in the child. So the next time you are caught talking to the voices, just tell the people in the white coats that a tiny parasite living in your brain made you do it, I’m sure they will understand and let you go.

Insanity:  tiny kernels of green corn living in your brain.
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Ahab said...

I know that pregnant women aren't supposed to go near catboxes because of a pathogen that could be dangerous to the fetus. Is Toxoplasma gondii the pathogen in question? You mentioned that it increases the fetus' risk of developing schizophrenia.

Cyc said...

Yes, this is the very pathogen that you have heard about. It aerosolizes and gets inhaled, especially when cat fecal mater is disturbed such as in litter boxes. As if the link with schizophrenia were not bad enough, acute Toxoplasmosis can cause spontaneous abortions as well.