Saturday, 8 December 2012

How parasites turn their victims into zombies

The Journal of Experimental Biology has made their current issue free to the public, and it's a beauty. The subject is parasites manipulating the behaviour of their hosts, and it of course includes the lovely Toxoplasma gondii. From the introductory article in the Journal:
If ever there was an emblematic example of a parasite hijacking a vertebrate and manipulating the unfortunate zombie, it must be Toxoplasma gondii. Picked up by rats and mice from cat faeces, the parasite dramatically alters the rodents’ behaviour, so that the infected animals become fatally attracted to the smell of cat urine in a bid to pass Toxoplasma on to its definitive host (the cat). There, it reproduces sexually, releasing the infective life stage of the parasite into the cat’s intestine ready to be passed on to the next generation of unsuspecting rodents. However, infective parasites have no control over which host they contact, so they are routinely passed on to creatures other than cats – such as humans and domestic livestock – where the parasite reproduces asexually, forming cysts in various tissues (including the brain) which may remain for the rest of the victim’s life.
Read the introduction and, if feeling adventurous, follow on to the scientific papers.

I love a good parasite story, so thank you JEB.

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