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Sci-Fi Science

Mind Control Parasites in Half of All Humans 625

Posted by Zonk
from the it's-in-me-mind! dept.
iiii writes "According to a Yahoo News story, half of the world's human population is infected with Toxoplasma, a parasite shown to alter the brain function of rats, inducing them into behavior that benefits the parasite but is suicidal for the rat. So what affect does it have on humans? Article comes complete with Heinlein 'Puppet Masters' reference. I call dibs on using Toxoplasma as a name for my rock band."
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Mind Control Parasites in Half of All Humans

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  • by helioquake (841463) * on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:34AM (#14698963) Journal
    Shhhhh, be quiet! Don't give DARPA any idea!

    I wonder how many people are going to blame their inability to work harder (if at all) on this parasite on Monday.
  • Wowa, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by XMilkProject (935232) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:44AM (#14699001) Homepage
    All the posts so far seem to be joking about this, but it sorta freaks me out!

    It seems to be strong evidence that parasites can control the behavior of a host in fairly complex ways, which opens up alot of sci-fi movies for a real life encore.

    Anyone familiar with these parasites in more detail? Any information? Are there other parasites that humans have that do cause changes of behavior?

    How do these things evolve? Are they complex lifeforms, or very very simple?
  • by skillet-thief (622320) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:44AM (#14699002) Homepage Journal
    ...or at least it doesn't matter. Toxoplasma has been around and known for a long time. The only real news is that infection rates are *down* (from something like 90% iirc not so long ago) because humans are spending less and less quality time with rodents. This mostly concerns pregnant women, who risk losing their fetus if the *catch* toxoplasma during the pregnancy. So it is far better to be part of the 50% who is already infected so that your antibodies are prepped. So yeah, move along.
  • Re:Name taken (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dolphinling (720774) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:44AM (#14699004) Homepage Journal
    Interesting that you should post here with that username, because at least according to a straight dope article [straightdope.com], Toxoplasma produces LSD.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:45AM (#14699005)
    Or not. From the Wikipedia:

    Toxoplasma gondii is a species of parasitic protozoa that lives in cats and other warm-blooded animals and can cause the disease toxoplasmosis in humans. It belongs to the Apicomplexa and is the only known member of the genus Toxoplasma.

    and under "Toxoplasmosis"
    Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It infects most animals and causes human parasitic diseases, but the primary host is the felid (cat) family. People usually get infected by eating raw or undercooked meat, or more rarely, by contact with cat faeces.

    At least one third of the world population may have contracted a toxoplasmosis infection in their lifetime but, after the acute infection has passed, the parasite rarely causes any symptoms in otherwise healthy adults. However, people with a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible, such as people infected with HIV. The parasite can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and neurologic diseases and can affect the heart, liver, and eyes (chorioretinitis).


    Much less interesting than TFA's speculation based on Toxoplasma's pathology in rats, but more credible.

    What's more, TFA does not give any indication about how they came up with the "half the human population" figure.

    Posted AC to avoid charges of Wikipedia-karma-whoring.
  • by Skreems (598317) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:50AM (#14699025) Homepage
    Does this explain why religion is on the decline? As less people are infected, less display symptoms of schizophrenia, such as "feeling the divine presence", and "talking to God". Maybe true devotion in the middle ages was a neurochemical imbalance caused by a parasite, and now that humans are living more cleanly, the "faith" we have left is just residual from the earlier teachings?
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:51AM (#14699027) Homepage
    So if this parasite had an effect on the minds of humans, you could almost say that we were puppets and they puppet-masters. With this, and the fact that Slashdotters seem to be increasingly turning to libertarianism, the future looks oddly Heinlein [amazon.com]-esque.
  • And... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kaenneth (82978) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:59AM (#14699045) Homepage Journal
    And don't forget those worms in Africa the tunnel through living human flesh, causing burning pain to make the host seek water for relief; only to continue it's life cycle. I heard recently that a type of virus may be linked to obesity; like the bactiria linked with ulcers.

    However, cause and effect may be reversed; perhaps the virus likes fatty foods (fat humans); and perhaps that bactiria prefers the chemical balance in a bleeding stomach. But this is good research; seeing that elimiating the parasite from the rats changes behavior.

    But, for the ultimate in behavior changing infections, you only have to look at your own mouth. Language. and the other aspects of human "culture"... "culture" is an interesting word, in that it can refer to fashionable art; or parasitical organisms.

    Really, humans are not much more than hosts for self replicating information. everything from the English language to Hula Hoops. I bet if you imagine living forever inside a machine; you probably think of your 'mind' being preserved; instead of a machine that pumps fluids through a mindless body (insert Republican joke here)

    All that being a Funny, Japanese-Speaking, Mozart-loving, Cat-loving, Slashdot-reading fellow is, is a combinatation of contaigous memes.
  • by nietsch (112711) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @04:59AM (#14699048) Homepage Journal
    There is some evidence that the parasite is manipulating his intemediate host's(rodents) behaviour to end up in the final host: cats. Cat droppings spread it again to rodents nearby. This mechanism has two species that benefit from it (the parasite and the cat), so it is likely this interaction reinforces itself.
  • by Weh (219305) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @05:33AM (#14699108)
    Sounds more like drs. Venkman/Spengler/Stantz
  • by Dexter77 (442723) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @06:19AM (#14699202)
    What makes mind control interesting, that is not usually thought of, is awareness of it. Since our brain is controlling everything we do, altering its functioning would propably go unnoticed. In movies characters usually try to fight againts mind control and even in everyday thoughts we imagine mind control to be something that is againts our will. When you think of it a bit further, you might notice that what mind control actually does, is make our emotions balanced in the way that we actually want to do what it wants us to do. As stated in the article, rats repeatedly did things againts logical behaviour. Now, if you think how many of your actions is based on logic and how many on emotions, you might be able to guess my point.

    But then again, this is just my theory. I hope your can prove it wrong. Only variable that would definately prove it wrong, would be existence of a soul. It would provide us something that can't be affected by change of chemical balance in brain. But more likely is that each and every one of us is under some kind of mind control. Everything affects our emotions, from food to movies, regardless of if it resides physically in our brain or affects through our senses.
  • Half infected? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuaintRealist (905302) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <tsilaertniauq>> on Sunday February 12, 2006 @07:10AM (#14699315) Homepage Journal
    Before we get too carried away, note that the numbers indicate the number of people with the antibodies to toxoplasma gondii, not the number of people with active infection. Antibodies just mean you have been infected at some point in your life - and the mental status changes seem to be primarily in those infected as infants or born to infected mothers. This connects well with the known etiology of toxoplasmosis, and is why the MD tells your pregnant wife/girlfriend/mom to stay away from cats.

    Still, it is really interesting how many diseases have been found recently to be of infectious etiology - ulcers (no, it's not the pizza), many forms of heart disease, and now possibly some forms of schizophrenia. Makes prevention at least plausible...
  • by usurper_ii (306966) <eyes0nly@quest 4 . org> on Sunday February 12, 2006 @09:59AM (#14699744) Homepage

    God created us with immune systems and created us to be self healing...but with a catch. To have a healthy immune system, you have to eat good, vitamin-rich foods, drink pure water, get some sunlight and fresh air, get some exercise and get some good sleep...and be able to control stress.

    Now huge amounts of people eat fast foods one, two, and three times a day, and the food is grown on burnt-out factory farms with zero minerals in the ground. We drink tap water with two poisons in it (chlorine and fluoride). Heck, some people never drink water that doesn't have a cup of corn syrup in it! And after they eat this crap, they take antacids that neutralize the very stomach acids trying to digest and get what little nutrition it can out of the so-called food eaten!

    We cut sleep and then take pills or drink to sleep...and take pills to wake up. And in our waking hours, we reach for a pill for any little ache that comes along or antibiotics for every little sneeze.

    We inject our little tiny babies with mercury and crap grown off of monkey livers and chicken embryos (or worse)...put the crap straight into their little veins.

    Huge amounts of people don't exercise, and they stay inside for large amounts of time where the air quality is the worst, usually (and our news media constantly hits us with the message that sunlight causes cancer, anyway).

    And when people get an infection like this, we poke fun at God for it! And when *you* get sick, you either blame God for it, or you pray to God to get healed...taking *zero* responsibility for the diet and lifestyle that got you sick in the first place (Ohhhh why, Lord? Why, did this happen to me???).

    With this infection, it appears that about 50% of the people's immune system still works, in spite of our lifestyles. From what I see, they appear to be pretty intelligently designed.

    Usurper_ii
  • I understand, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuaintRealist (905302) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <tsilaertniauq>> on Sunday February 12, 2006 @11:30AM (#14700175) Homepage Journal
    I understand your point, and read the article you link for professional reasons some time ago. When they talk about the relative risk decreasing with time after infection, this poses a significant question - does the infection cause the problem, or does the immune response cause the problem (like arthritis following streptococcal infection)? Also, long latent cysts (again, reference the article you linked) present a diminishing relative risk over time. The study is not designed to determine whether that relative risk decreases to zero.

    We do not know that dormant T. gondii infection is a risk in and of itself, because having the cyst form means that you once had the active form. We do know that previous infections present various problems whose severity seems to depend on:

    1) Severity of infection
    2) Age at which infection started
    3) Length of time which has passed since infection

    Which provides some circumstantial evidence that the active infection phase causes the majority of problems.

  • by deuterium (96874) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @11:34AM (#14700195)
    To label the effects of a parasitic infection on an organ as mind control is an unnecessary distinction. It's simply one of many possible parasitic infections that alter the functioning of the the body. If what we're evaluating is altered behavior, a typical flu offers a more immediate demonstration. Typical flu vicitms will (for a time) become less active, communicate less, etc. I think that what intrigues many about this particular instance is the concept of invisible, "subconscious" control... that something we're not aware of may be nudging us into different thoughts and feelings. This, however, implies that there is some uncorruptable state of free will which one ideally operates within, which simply isn't established [amazon.com]. Our thoughts and actions are in situ the result of numerous interactions not apparent to our conscious consideration. We're just along for the ride, parasite or no.
    Beyond this, if Toxoplasma gondii infection is indeed so prevelant, it's likely been a factor in the dynamics of human evolution, anyway. Our brains perhaps already assume the potential for such influence in their normal operation.
  • by count0 (28810) on Sunday February 12, 2006 @12:52PM (#14700556)
    Gee, thanks. Was that the parasite talking ;-)

    I *do* think there's a difference between regular cat owners, and people who obsess over their felines...it's the latter that I wonder about when stories of mind control parasites come up...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2006 @07:32PM (#14702194)
    worse yet the only 'treatment' we have for the parasite is not guarenteed to continue working. http://www.atdn.org/access/drugs/pyri.html [atdn.org]

    the infenction is only spreadable via unclean living, and maternally, so the 'most sure' solution is a eugenics program designed to round up all females infected, attempt treatment of parasite, those who 'remain infected' are 'sterilized'. combined with good sanitation practices promoted to society... we could lick this disease in no time with that. of course... that's not 'practical' in a free society. however, the clean living, and routine testing of the parasite in females, with reccomendation that they begin a treatment regimin... before considering pregnancy...

    it also helps explain people who can stand to live in cat urine infested homes. the parasite may have made the smell of cat urine more pleasing to them as it does with rats.

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