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December 27, 2006

Disease Turns Men Stupid, Women Slutty

A while ago I linked this article suggesting that schizophrenia may be caused by the cat-borne bacterial parasite toxoplasma gondii. Which makes sense -- maybe those crazy cat-ladies are crazy because of their cats.

When when we last saw Toxoplasma gondii, it was being blamed for causing mice and rats to get themselves killed, in order to perpetuate itself:

This single-celled parasite lives in the guts of cats, sheddding eggs that can be picked up by rats and other animals that can just so happen be eaten by cats. Toxoplasma forms cysts throughout its intermediate host's body, including the brain. And yet a Toxoplasma-ridden rat is perfectly healthy. That makes good sense for the parasite, since a cat would not be particularly interested in eating a dead rat. But scientists at Oxford discovered that the parasite changes the rats in one subtle but vital way.

...

Then the researchers put Toxoplasma-carrying rats in the enclosure. Rats carrying the parasite are for the most part indistinguishable from healthy ones. They can compete for mates just as well and have no trouble feeding themselves. The only difference, the researchers found, is that they are more likely to get themselves killed. The scent of a cat in the enclosure didn't make them anxious, and they went about their business as if nothing was bothering them. They would explore around the odor at least as often as they did anywhere else in the enclosure. In some cases, they even took a special interest in the spot and came back to it over and over again.

The scientists speculated that Toxoplasma was secreted some substance that was altering the patterns of brain activity in the rats. This manipulation likely evolved through natural selection, since parasites that were more likely to end up in cats would leave more offpsring.

So, back then, they began wondering if the parasite could cause changes in the behavior of humans. The answer may be "yes." Self-destructive, risky behavior, sort of like cats.

A COMMON parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.

About 40 per cent of the world's population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians.

...

Until recently it was thought to be an insignificant disease in healthy people, Sydney University of Technology infectious disease researcher Nicky Boulter said, but new research has revealed its mind-altering properties.

"Interestingly, the effect of infection is different between men and women,'' Dr Boulter writes in the latest issue of Australasian Science magazine.

"Infected men have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women.

"On the other hand, infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.

"In short, it can make men behave like alley cats and women behave like sex kittens''.

I'm convinced that this is the next wave of medicine -- finding how important a part viruses and bacteria play in altering our brain chemistry and hence our behavior and very personalities.

Makes sense to me. These things work on the nano level. If nanotech can build computers one day out of little else but carbon sludge, surely these little nanobugs can cause serious changes in our brains.

Then again, I'm an optimist. I just want to go to a doctor, take a shot, and finally be normal.

Thanks to Marcus.


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posted by Ace at 11:10 PM

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