Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Mind Control
Half of the world's human population is infected with Toxoplasma. Parasites in the body - and the brain. Remember that.
Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite found in the gut of cats; it sheds eggs that are picked up by rats and other animals that are eaten by cats. Toxoplasma forms cysts in the bodies of the intermediate rat hosts, including the brain. Since cats don't want to eat dead, decaying prey, Toxoplasma takes the evolutionarily sound course of being a "good" parasite, leaving the rats perfectly healthy. Or are they?
Oxford scientists discovered that the minds of the infected rats have been subtly altered. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that healthy rats will prudently avoid areas that have been doused with cat urine. In fact, when scientists test anti-anxiety drugs on rats, they use a whiff of cat urine to induce neurochemical panic. However, it turns out that Toxoplasma-ridden rats show no such reaction. In fact, some of the infected rats actually seek out the cat urine-marked areas again and again. The parasite alters the mind (and thus the behavior) of the rat for its own benefit.
If the parasite can alter rat behavior, does it have any effect on humans? Dr. E. Fuller Torrey (Associate Director for Laboratory Research at the Stanley Medical Research Institute) noticed links between Toxoplasma and schizophrenia in human beings, approximately three billion of whom are infected with T. gondii:
Dr. Torrey got together with the Oxford scientists, to see if anything could be done about those parasite-controlled rats who were driven to hang around cat urine-soaked corners (waiting for cats). According to a recent press release, it turns out that haloperidol restores the rat's healthy fear of cat urine. In fact, antipsychotic drugs were as effective as pyrimethamine, a drug that specifically eliminates Toxoplasma.
- Toxoplasma infection is associated with damage to astrocytes, glial cells which surround and support neurons. Schizophrenia is also associated with damage to astrocytes.
- Pregnant women with high levels of antibodies to Toxoplasma are more likely to give birth to children who will develop schizophrenia.
- Human cells raised in petri dishes, and infected with Toxoplasma, will respond to drugs like haloperidol; the growth of the parasite stops. Haloperidol is an antipsychotic, used to treat schizophrenia.
Are parasites like Toxoplasma subtly altering human behavior? As it turns out, science fiction writers have been thinking about whether or not parasites could alter a human being's behavior, or even take control of a person. In his 1951 novel The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein wrote about alien parasites the size of dinner plates that took control of the minds of their hosts, flooding their brains with neurochemicals. In this excerpt, a volunteer strapped to a chair allows a parasite to be introduced; the parasite rides him, taking over his mind. Under these conditions, it is possible to interview the parasite; however, it refuses to answer until zapped with a cattle prod.
He reached past my shoulders with a rod. I felt a shocking, unbearable pain. The room blacked out as
if a switch had been thrown.. I was split apart
by it; for the moment I was masterless.
The pain left, leaving only its searing memory behind. Before I could speak, or even think coherently
for myself, the splitting away had ended and I was again safe in the arms of my master...
The panic that possessed me washed away; I was again filled with an unworried sense of well being...
"What are you?"
"We are the people... We have studied you and we know your ways... We come," I went on, "to bring you peace.. and contentment-and the joy of-of surrender." I hesitated again; "surrender" was not the right word. I struggled with it the way one struggles with a poorly grasped foreign language.
"The joy," I repeated, "-the joy of . . .nirvana." That was it; the word fitted. I felt like a dog being patted
for fetching a stick; I wriggled with pleasure.
Still not sure that parasites can manipulate the behavior of host organisms? Consider these other cases:
- The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum forces its ant host to attach to the tips of grass blades, the easier to be eaten. The fluke needs to get into the gut of a grazing animal to complete its life cycle.
- The fluke Euhaplorchis californiensis causes fish to shimmy and jump so wading birds will grab them and eat them, for the same reason.
- Hairworms, which live inside grasshoppers, sabotage the grasshopper's central nervous system, forcing them to jump into pools of water, drowning themselves. Hairworms then swim away from their hapless hosts to continue their life cycle.
Not all science-fictional parasites are harmful; read about the Crosswell tapeworm from Brian Aldiss' 1969 story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, which keeps people who overeat from becoming obese. Not to mention robots based on parasites. Read press release on evidence for link between Toxoplasma and schizophrenia, Suicidal grasshoppers. Story via blogger
Carl Zimmer and his readers.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/7/2006)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 45 )
Related News Stories -
Wound Healing With Wearable Nanogenerators
'... forcing the energy transfer which allowed him to ... erase the other internal-external damage.' - Frank Herbert, 1972.
EXPLORER, The First Total-Body Scanner
'The object is built up of an infinite series of plane layers, at the focus of the ray...' - Jack Williamson, 1930.
Bioreactor Helps Legless Frogs Get Their Jump Back
'An alien drug... Used by an insect race... It can repair bones and organs. It can grow new tissue." - Clifford Simak, 1961
Sleeep PRO Earplug For Maximum Rest
'Merton... placed the electrodes of the sleep-inducer on his forehead.' - Arthur C. Clarke, 1963.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Wound Healing With Wearable Nanogenerators
'... forcing the energy transfer which allowed him to ... erase the other internal-external damage.'
Flying Dragon Robot Transforms In Mid-Air
Terrific prototype video.
Negative Matter Fluid Theorized In New Paper
'Of course, being negative matter, when you push it, it comes toward you..'
Grow Structures Upon Planetfall - Myco-Architecture
'They'll also start pulling in gases and liquids from the local atmosphere...'
MXene Hydrogel Skin For Robots Flexes And Senses
'The plastex swam and whirled like boiling toothpaste...'
EXPLORER, The First Total-Body Scanner
'The object is built up of an infinite series of plane layers, at the focus of the ray...'
UK Police AI To Stop Criminals Before They Strike
'... the computing mechanisms that studied and restructured the incoming material.'
Sonitus Audio Interface Positioned Beyond The Noise
'... an instrument having relatively small bit pieces adapted to be gripped between the teeth.'
Volvo's Self-Driving Mining Trucks
'A procession of automatic ore carts was racing over the bleak slag'
Audi Pop.Up Autonomous Electric Flying Car
'The cab was an egg-shaped bubble of light metals and plastics...'
Music Not Impossible (MNI) Vibrotactile Wearable Experience
Don't you want to experience the 'feely' effects?
Chinese Face Recognition Mistakes Bus Ad For Jaywalker
'... the imprint of her image on the telephoto cell.'
A Look Back At Apollo's Emergency Escape Vehicle
'A simple mechanism... it drove the iron ball through space like a ship.'
InMotion Glide 3 Electric Unicycle For The Last Mile
'...gyro-stabilized on a single wheel.'
China's Social Credit System - A Facebook-1984 Mashup
'Prestige, face, mana, repute, glory: the Sirenese word is strakh.'
Musk Declares Tesla Supercharger Capacity Will Double By Next Year
'Recharge the batteries... in almost every town and village...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories