Friday, March 30, 2012

Why You Got Into That Car Accident

Well, okay, I don't really know why you were doing 80 in a 55 zone. But if you have or ever had had a cat, and if you changed its litter box, and if its feces infected you with toxoplasmosis (and fully 1/3 of humanity has been infected), then your brain may be altered. People carrying the Toxoplasma gondii parasite have 2 1/2 times as many auto accidents as those who don't.

I learned this from a recent article in ATLANTIC: "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy," by Kathleen McAuliffe. Researchers in Prague, Stanford, and other places have moved from interest in how T. gondii affects rats to how it affects humans. The rat angle has been known for a while: Infection causes rats and mice to lose their fear of cats. In fact, they become attracted to the odor of cat urine. This is so they will more easily be eaten by cats, thus getting the parasite back into a cat gut, where it needs to be in order to reproduce.

Humans, who are "accidental hosts" for T. gondii, used to be thought to be unaffected by the parasite. But new research shows that T. gondii subtly changes human brains. Carriers become more willing to take risks. Dopamine production increases. In the susceptible, schizophrenia may be triggered. That parasite is trying to get back into a cat, and it doesn't know you aren't one.

There are, in fact, a great many parasites that influence the behavior of hosts in order to further the parasites' life cycles. One compels an ant to climb onto a stalk of grass and stand there, neglecting its normal ant-y life, until a sheep wanders by and consumes it.

Unwashed vegetables are also a source of T. gondii. So scrub your carrots, change cat litter carefully -- and watch your driving.


Max Kaehn said...

There are suggestions that it may even influence national character, to the degree that you can pick winning soccer teams based on toxoplasma infection rates.

Nancy Kress said...

Really! That is fascinating!

NormanFor8 said...

In the United States, criminal law is arguably the most complex area of law, since it comprises a wide range of concepts. As a result of this,
there are a wide range of available attorneys that specialize in criminal defense. A good criminal attorney will advocate on behalf of their client in court and defend them to the best of their abilities against criminal charges. Its better to have a personal injury lawyer mesa az.

SM Blogger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.