The Return of the Puppet Masters

by on July 18, 2009 at 7:20 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

In a post from a few years ago titled, Do you love cats?, I wrote this:

Toxoplasma gondii is a favorite parasite of evolutionary biologists because it has an incredible property.  The parasite lives in the guts of cats where it sheds eggs in cat feces that are often eaten by rats.  Now how to get back from the rat to the cat?  Amazingly, Toxoplasma gondii infects the brains of rats making them change their behavior in a subtle way that increases the genetic fitness of the parasite.  Toxoplasma makes the infected rats less scared of cats and so more likely to be eaten! 

Now here is the kicker.  Toxoplasma gondii also infects a lot of humans.

Now here is the latest research finding;

Toxoplasma gondii infects 20–60% of the population in most countries…We confirmed, using for the first time a prospective cohort study design, increased risk of traffic accidents in Toxoplasma-infected subjects…Our results show that …subjects with high titers of anti-Toxoplasma antibodies had a probability of a traffic accident of about 16.7%, i.e. a more than six times higher rate than Toxoplasma-free… subjects.

People with RhD blood factor have some protection – see the article for more.  No word yet on whether this increases the probability of being eaten by cats although I suppose it would have to.

Bruce Bartlett July 18, 2009 at 7:53 am

I wonder what percentage of soldiers who volunteer for combat have this infection? Same with cops, firemen and others in dangerous professions? I also wonder if it would be desirable to intentionally infect such people in order to improve their performance by reducing their fear? Would such people self-infect if they thought if would make them better at their jobs?

RW Rogers July 18, 2009 at 8:37 am

Some time ago, I read a report that indicated that European residents were two to three times more likely than American residents to be carriers of this parasite. I wonder why that is so.

Joshua Holmes July 18, 2009 at 11:01 am

Cats eat vermin, very useful.

Yancey Ward July 18, 2009 at 11:32 am

How does this correlate with our increasingly large cult of safety?

Shane M July 18, 2009 at 12:21 pm

And perhaps the parasite contributes to the domestication of Cats if it similarly reduces fear in cats.

Francesco July 18, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Some time ago, I read a report that indicated that European residents were two to three times more likely than American residents to be carriers of this parasite. I wonder why that is so.

More cats in European cities?

dearieme July 18, 2009 at 4:17 pm

“The world is a much weirder place than I had imagined.” Perhaps it’s a much wierder place than we can imagine?

db July 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I was once hit by a cat lady who ran a red light trying to get her cat to the vet hospital.

Doc Merlin July 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm

The effects are far, far beyond just liking cats.
The infection
1) Significantly increases risk for schizophrenia
2) Makes women more slutty
3) Makes men behave in ways that women find less attractive
4) Is the number 1 killer of many types of marine mammals

anon July 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Alex needs to post more.

Basho July 19, 2009 at 1:40 am

Cult of Safety driven by fear of being held responsible.

Cats are phat.

Safety First July 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Thank you for the warning!
Since I value traffic safety, I shall stop eating cat feces immediately.

rmark July 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm

The cat sleeps outside tonight.

clarke July 30, 2009 at 1:48 pm

how does one cure oneself of suspected toxoplasma gondiitis?

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