The toxoplasma parasite can be deadly, causing spontaneous abortion in pregnant women or killing immune-compromised patients, but it has even stranger effects in mice.
Infected mice lose their fear of cats, which is good for both cats and the parasite, because the cat gets an easy meal and the parasite gets into the cat’s intestinal track, the only place it can sexually reproduce and continue its cycle of infection.
New research by graduate student Wendy Ingram at the University of California, Berkeley, reveals a scary twist to this scenario: the parasite’s effect seem to be permanent.
We’ve had two previous stories on toxoplasma parasite. One was a suggestion that the parasite makes people behave differently, by tweaking our neurons. Another suggested a small subset of suicides could have been associated with infection with the parasite. This research does support the hypothesis that this parasite is a form of mind alteration. Even when the parasite is gone from the brain, some unknown mechanism has resulted in permanent changes.
That’s JUST a bit scary but, it’s “natural”, so it’s OK.
Tip: Russell G.