Sunday, 14 October 2012

Toxo on 7

The first LOLcat I have ever made! Photo found by Google here.
When I came to Cairns for a holiday back in 1999, my holiday reading included Carl Zimmer's wonderful book Parasite Rex. The most memorable of the parasites discussed was Toxoplasma gondii, ordinarily a parasite of cats and their prey.

Research had shown that T. gondii altered the behaviour of rats and mice, making them less afraid of cats and more likely to be eaten. It also showed that, when in a human, it also affected out behaviour - alas cats large enough are uncommon. It does, however, make us more prone to schizophrenia, indulging in extreme sports, and various other risk-taking behaviours.

Having grown up with cats, I have no doubt there are some number of these parasites resident in my brain, excreting chemicals that affect my behaviour and personality. It's odd to think that our parasites may play a role in determining who we are.

Tonight Channel 7's Sunday Night program gave this fascinating parasite a bit more publicity. You can watch it on the Sunday Night website. They really should feature a different parasite every week.

If you don't have the time to watch the Sunday Night story, here's a one minute introduction courtesy of Slate:

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