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Biotech Science

Parasites Makes Us Dumber or Sexier 240

Posted by Zonk
from the that-explains-hollywood-zing dept.
odie_q writes "It has long been known that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite alters its host's behavior, but now it seems the way it alters it depends on the sex of the host. From the article: 'A common parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says ... 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.'"
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Parasites Makes Us Dumber or Sexier

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  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by edwardpickman (965122) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:46AM (#17407384)
    A scientific explaination of Jocks and blondes.
  • Ah HA! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Terminal Saint (668751) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:47AM (#17407388)
    So THAT's what happened to me. Suddenly everything makes sense, and it's all Smokey's fault.
  • combined with the extremely high incidence of human infection in both developing and developed countries

    fits with old "hot blooded" stereo types.
  • Parasite? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stephan Seidt (803125) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:53AM (#17407414) Homepage
    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.

    Hum, if you add "addicted to an internet news site" it would perfectly match the Slashdot syndrome.
  • by Tablizer (95088)
    Do you think HR will buy my parasite excuse for what I did to that girl? I know where to get a phony doctor note [alibinetwork.com].
  • by css-hack (1038154) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:57AM (#17407424)
    What are the odds that guys with low IQs, short attention spans, and an affinity for risks are just more likely to eat undercooked meat, and that the more outgoing promiscuous women catch it because of them.
    • The article states that mice alter their behavior when exposed to the parasite. They then alter their behavior back when treated with drugs that kill the parasite.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Nirvelli (851945)
      I don't think it's just undercooked meat those people are eating:

      "A Toxoplasma infection occurs by:

      * Accidentally swallowing cat feces..."
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Walt Dismal (534799)
        Unfortunately it's true. What happens is, cats can carry the parasite on their fur from contact with feces, then brush up or rub against something you touch. Example, cat wipes its parasites off on your couch. You sit down unaware it did that. Your hand touches the couch, picks up some very small toxoplasmosis eggs; you sit there watching TV, eating popcorn, not having washed your hands. You've been pwned by the parasite. Worse, very worse, is that small children can get it by touching the cute kitty then
        • I've got two cats at home and I do .NET programming at work!
        • by oohshiny (998054)
          The Wikipedia article on toxoplasmosis puts this pretty well:

          Although the pathogen has been detected on the fur of cats, it has not been found in an infectious form, and direct infection from handling cats is generally believed to be very rare.


          So, you're not likely to get the parasite from touching everyday objects.
        • by mrtrumbe (412155) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @11:22AM (#17408808) Homepage
          Sorry, bad formatting, let's try this again...

          How do you like your steak? Unless your answer is "well done", you are at greater risk for toxoplasmosis than any cat owner.

          From wikipedia: "The most common means of transmission to humans is raw or undercooked meat."

          Further, based on research it is *extremely* unlikely that you could pick up this parasite from casual contact with cats. Handling cat feces and not washing your hands? Sure. Petting a cat? No way.

          From wikipedia: "Although the pathogen has been detected on the fur of cats, it has not been found in an infectious form, and direct infection from handling cats is generally believed to be very rare."

          Further, cats must contract the disease from somewhere and are only infectious for a brief period right after contracting the disease. Which means that indoor cats that don't have access to infected prey can't get the disease (except by other transmission methods which are the same for humans). Or, if your cat already has toxoplasmosis, it means that it can't transmit the parasite to you (except for that brief period right after infection.

          From wikipedia: "Cats excrete the pathogen in their faeces for a number of weeks after contracting the disease, generally by eating an infected rodent. Even then, cat faeces are not generally contagious for the first day or two after excretion, after which the cyst 'ripens' and becomes potentially pathogenic. Studies have shown that only about 2% of cats are shedding at any one time, and that shedding does not recur even after repeated exposure to the parasite."

          Further, the disease *is* treatable. The cysts are resistant to common forms of treatment for parasites (antibiotics). However, there are treatments available which seem to eliminate the cysts.

          From wikipedia: "The antibiotic atovaquone has been used to kill Toxoplasma cysts in situ in AIDS patients.[3] In mice, a combination of atovaquone with clindamycin seemed to optimally kill cysts."

          Here is a link to wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis [wikipedia.org]

          Every time a toxoplasmosis article comes up, someone will make a post like this, saying that *for them* cat ownership is simply too risky. This, of course, completely ignores the reality of the situation, where cat ownership is actually far less risky than eating, where mishandling of food or "undercooked" meat (may I be the first to say, yum!) are far more likely to score you an infectious parasite.

          Please inform yourself and stop spouting this trollish bullshit.

          Taft
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      and that the more outgoing promiscuous women catch it because of them.

            Because you can't get toxo from another human? Unless of course, that human is your mother and you're in her womb.
    • by GIL_Dude (850471)
      Maybe the researchers should infect themselves and see? Who knows, maybe they will prove it to be a new weight loss regimen...
  • by sadler121 (735320) <msadler@gmail.com> on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:58AM (#17407426) Homepage
    Wheres the damn Goa'uld tag when you need it?
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:05AM (#17407440) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. He used to be quite articulate. I just saw a youtube snippet of him talking fast, articulate, and using big words in the mid 90's. It was like a different man. Something changed him into a stubburn bumbler. Some speculate drug abuse, but everyone around him says he swore off substance abuse decades ago.
  • by Knutsi (959723) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:14AM (#17407456)
    I found this piece of news very interesting. Is it known how the parasite affects our behavior? If it secretes a chemical that has the effect, I'd say this could be used for treatment in a variety of medical conditions. If it "attacks" specific areas of the brain, it may reveal interesting things about it.

    Things such as this hints to how our minds work, which is possibly one of the most fascinating things in the universe (:
  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:15AM (#17407464) Journal
    'A common parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid,...
    I get the same parasite whenever I go to the pub.
  • by zoftie (195518) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:19AM (#17407472) Homepage
    Maybe it is the next phase, of mind evolution? Snowcrash popularized tower of babel, where humans evolved through infection by a meta-virus, that had real life counterpart with same effects(Nam-shub evolution into real world). The virus broke down barriers between clearly separated brain parts and made them more equal in reasoning on how to behave.
    links:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origin_of_Conscio usness_in_the_Breakdown_of_the_Bicameral_Mind [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash [wikipedia.org]

    Also if you haven't read snow crash, you must do so immediately. ;)
    • by rs232 (849320) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @09:32AM (#17408324)
      "The virus broke down barriers between clearly separated brain parts and made them more equal in reasoning on how to behave"

      The barriers are required for consciousness as your first link clearly describes. If you want to see what the world looks like without the barriers then injest some psilocybe. You won't actually be doing any reasoning though. The next true phase of mind evolution will be the combination of computers with the brain, as to how that will happen, I don't know.
  • Yeah sure (Score:4, Funny)

    by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp@gm ... om minus painter> on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:20AM (#17407474) Homepage
    I can deal with being stupider as long as I can play the holophoner.
  • by Zaphod2016 (971897) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:23AM (#17407482) Homepage
    • break rules and take risks...check
    • independent...check
    • anti-social...suck it
    • suspicious...who wants to know?
    • jealous...check...but not as jealous as you
    • morose...check
    • deemed less attractive to women...posting on /. on Fri night...check


    So how come I can't play the holophone [futurama-madhouse.com.ar]?
  • Remember, kids! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 (410832)
    Correlation != causation.

    Even since the last time this came up, I haven't seen anything done to differentiate between "symptoms of infection" and "traits of average cat owners."
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by poopdeville (841677)
      Wow, thanks for the science lesson!

      Actually, real science is done by noting correlations, hypothesizing a mechanism that explains the correlation, and testing it.

      The researchers have tested the mechanism. RTFA.
      • by Guppy06 (410832)
        "The researchers have tested the mechanism. RTFA."

        I did. The causal relationship was demonstrated, but on lab rats. As far as humans are concerned, all that was done (as usual) was to find a correlation between having the parasites in your system and having certain personality traits. Things like "Does their personality change if you remove the parasites?" test was performed on the rats, but not on humans, rather it was assumed that "causal relationship with rats" == "causal relationship with humans."
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by poopdeville (841677)
          The researchers have noted that toxoplasmosis secretes domanine-like molecules in mice. It has already been established that mice and humans share receptors for this molecule. It has already been established that dopamine levels affect human behaviour and mood. Mutatis mutandis, toxoplasmosis affects human behaviour and mood.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lagfest (959022)
      I don't see any correlation between Crazy Cat Lady and being more attractive. So there's your proof.
    • by dircha (893383)
      "Correlation != causation."

      "Even since the last time this came up, I haven't seen anything done to differentiate between "symptoms of infection" and "traits of average cat owners.""

      1. Control groups (although no source is given the claims in this article).

      2. Most infections result from eating undercooked meat, not from owning cats.

      And quit with the juvenile "correlation/causation" business. Yes, if you want to be obtuse, we can never "prove" causation. But down here in the world of reality and common sense,
      • by Guppy06 (410832)
        "Most infections result from eating undercooked meat, not from owning cats."

        Straw man. I still didn't see anything to affirm that the changes in personality were caused the parasites rather than the infection being an effect of risk-taking in the personalities in question.

        "Yes, if you want to be obtuse, we can never "prove" causation."

        On the contrary, it's been demonstrated before, only in lab rats (see how a rat acts, expose it to the parasites, see how the rat acts, kill the parasites, see how the rat ac
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      Actually, I don't see why that particular effort would help. Obviously, being a cat owner would be a risk factor (assuming you were exposed to the cat's feces during the period when it is infectious, which is a few weeks after the cat is infected, so I gather). But so is gardening or exposure to rodents and other small animals. A better comparison would be of people who are infected with toxoplasma yet who aren't cat-owners. Being a cat owner involves a complex situation (eg, economic factors like living in

      • by Dunbal (464142)
        Occam's razor. What's a simpler reason for behavior differences?

              The Pygmalion Effect [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
        Actually, if you want to bring up Occam's Razor, what about the explanation that the parasite merely makes both sexes stupider, and the higher attractiveness in women is because men like stupid (ditzy) women.

        Think about it.
        • by khallow (566160)
          Makes sense to me. The characterization of the effect could be mistaken in that way.
    • Re:Remember, kids! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sique (173459) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @06:36AM (#17407704) Homepage
      Remember, kids! RTFA!

      The article clearly states that the changed behaviour could be seen after infecting the mice with toxoplasmose and be reversed by treating the infection. So we have something that looks a lot more like a causation and less a pure correlation (with currently unknown relation).
      • by Guppy06 (410832)
        "The article clearly states that the changed behaviour could be seen after infecting the mice with toxoplasmose and be reversed by treating the infection."

        The article never states that something similar was attempted with humans. No infestations in humans were treated during the course of this investigation.

  • And all this time I thought I was getting sexier.
  • by GrumpySimon (707671) <email@siSTRAWmon.net.nz minus berry> on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:41AM (#17407540) Homepage
    I believe this is one of those news stories that sits around waiting for a slow news day. The original paper was released in November. It's written by Kevin Lafferty [usgs.gov] and was published in Proc. Roy. Soc. B [royalsoc.ac.uk].

    It's a really quite fascinating paper - I recommend tracking it down if you can get access. Here's how it goes: Toxoplasmia gondii is adapated to live in cats and reproduces in felid intestinal cells & is shed, encysted, in their feaces. Then it can directly infect cats who come into contact with the cysts, or it encysts in brains of smaller mammals, and moves up the food chain as they get eaten until it hits a cat, and can reproduce again.

    Fascinatingly, T.g. appears to affect rodent behavior to increase predation risk - i.e. the rodents become more active, less fearful of cat/cat smells, and have increased dopamine levels (which supposedly leads to novelty seeking behavior and neuroticism-type behaviors, or at least, they do in humans).

    Despite humans not having any major cat predators, it could still affect us as a byproduct type of thing. Particularly that whole dopamine increase - this is should increase neuroticism levels.

    So - the big question - does prevalence of T.g. correlate with cultural variation in neuroticism in humans? Lafferty finds a fairly strong correlation ( r2 of 0.38 ) between population aggregate neuroticism (as measured by the fairly standard NEO PI-R [wikipedia.org] personality inventory ).

    Unfortunately I think the populations he uses for his stats are a little bit suspect (always the problem with worldwide analyses though), but it's definitely worth a read. You should also keep in mind that so far it's only an interesting correlation and not a direct demonstration that T.g. causes large scale cultural differences.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JKR (198165)
      Lafferty finds a fairly strong correlation ( r2 of 0.38 ) ...

      Only in the social "sciences". Anywhere else, an r2 less than 0.95 is considered unimpressive, and 0.38 would definitely be "poor".
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Paradigma11 (645246)
        this is a field study, not an experiment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        38% of the variance in the observered behaviour (answers in the fpi) is explained by the predictor variable.
        an r2 of 0.95 would mean, that the maximum correlation of another predictor could be 0.22 and you would have explained all human behaviour regarding the setting. think of zombie movies.

        that said, i am not a big fan of the neo-fpi. it is a questionaire which means it reports how people see themself or want other to see them. plus, it is based on
      • by yali (209015) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:01PM (#17411152)
        You have been infected with a rare and deadly disease. A new drug has become available. In clinical trials, if people are left untreated (control group), only 31% survive and the rest die. If they are given the drug, 69% survive. Do you take the drug, or ignore it because its effects are "unimpressive"? Because that example expresses an effect size of r=0.38 [nih.gov].

        The "anywhere else" you refer to is in areas of science that deal with deterministic phenomena. In many areas of social science, medicine, and other fields, the phenomena are probabilistic, and effect sizes are judged accordingly.
    • by dasheiff (261577)
      When I saw this on fark I asked my doctor, How pronouced are the behaviour changing effects actually?

      He said, If you were infected as a uterus, then very bad. If you caught it as a teenager of adult, no major sysmptoms.

      Basicly there is a reason doctors aren't actually trying to fix this.
      • by karnal (22275)
        Does that mean I have to have some sort of sex change?

        If you were infected as a uterus,

        eeek! You appear to have the bug!
  • by Travoltus (110240) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @05:46AM (#17407550) Journal
    Is there any parasite that makes MEN more attractive?

    As if we didn't have enough biological disadvantages in the mating game, this one is nature's way of applying the final curb stomp.
    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @06:07AM (#17407610) Journal
      "Is there any parasite that makes MEN more attractive?

      Yes, but she will take all your stuff.
    • by forkazoo (138186)
      Is there any parasite that makes MEN more attractive?

      As if we didn't have enough biological disadvantages in the mating game, this one is nature's way of applying the final curb stomp.


      Yes, the parasite secretes a green substance which makes one butt cheek look unusually padded. It's called Richitosis, and you get it by having lots of money. Symptoms include driving a sports car and living in a mansion.
  • by kjart (941720) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @06:00AM (#17407590)

    Based on the description, this parasite will turn that ugly girl next door into a hot, promiscuous girl who might stop pepper spraying me! Sign me up for two!

  • I am pretty sure this is a dupe and was already discussed to death. I am trying to fight the slashdot search engine but up to now "parasite" and "toxoplasm" did not give any search result back... Maybe someone can point out what article it was ?
  • I didn't know testosterone could be spelled Toxoplasma gondii
  • by Shadow-isoHunt (1014539) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @07:07AM (#17407776) Homepage
    "A common parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid"
    What do you mean by more stupid?
  • I keep telling you people there has to be something in the water making humanity stooooopid.
  • by OriginalArlen (726444) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @08:22AM (#17408070)

    ...infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men

    Perhaps it's just me, but my first thought after reading the summary was that the best and brightest the world of cosmetics marketing has to offer are probably working on the advertising campaign right now. "New, from L'Oreal: toxoplasmosis, the only parasite derived from cat shit that's /guaranteed/ to make you MORE ATTRACTIVE to the opposite sex. Because you're worth it!"...

    Given the crap they already get women to shell out fifty quid for a couple of ounces, parasite-infected cat shit would be a relatively easy sell.

    • Selling the injection of a very nasty poison into your facial muscles that in fact makes you less attractive was an easy enough sell - I think you may have a winner there.
  • by Joebert (946227) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @08:32AM (#17408126) Homepage
    Damn you're sexy, you have parasites don't you ?
  • FTA (Score:3, Informative)

    by eneville (745111) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @09:15AM (#17408270) Homepage
    It doesn't look to me as this is a terminal illness, the infection is gone in a few weeks to months, so it's hardly an explanation for the world's stupidity.
    • Re:FTA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @04:03PM (#17411162)
      It doesn't look to me as this is a terminal illness, the infection is gone in a few weeks to months, so it's hardly an explanation for the world's stupidity.

      It can be lethal if you have a weakened immune system due to age, chemo, HIV, whatever. BTW- it may persist as a low-grade infestation even in healthy people. The same as many other infections like syphilis, Lyme Disease, and even chickenpox - the initial symptoms of infection may go away but the pathogen stays in the body and causes mayhem a few years or even decades later.

      -b.

  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @10:30AM (#17408534)
    I, for one, welcome our new Toxoplasmosis overlords.
  • Gee, this bears remarkable similarity to a guy's night out getting hammered at the local watering holes.
  • Awesome, another thing I can blame on the cats, right next to breaking that glass and hiding the remote!

    --Rob

  • Or is the behavior being interpreted differently based on gender?

    It sounds like the parasite simply amplifies the affects of certain sex hormones in both sexes, and lowers inhibitions... In civilized men, too much of a good thing. (For less civilized men, it means "Jackass: The movie".) As for women, it's hard to draw conclusions about the intelligence of someone who's "more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous". Some would consider that to be potentially more "risky," regardless of the fact that most m

  • by Frangible (881728) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @11:15AM (#17408772)

    If the parasite works by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, that would most certainly not decrease attention span or reaction time, it would in fact improve them, as can be seen when you take any dopaminergic drug. Higher dopamine doesn't hinder academic achievement, nor will it lower your IQ. That is ridiculous-- most of the mental benefits from cardiovascular exercise come from increased DA levels. Further, the effects of dopamine are not so sexually dimorphic in humans, the only real difference is that estrogen increases DA sensitivity. The archetypal drugs for increasing DA levels? Ritalin and Adderall.

    These are low quality studies and an abomination of science to conclude that correlation = causation. Nothing is further from the truth! The main way toxoplasma is spread in humans is in eating undercooked meat. Considering the actual effects of dopamine on the brain, doesn't it seem more likely that perhaps a low IQ, low educational achievement, and risk taking/promiscuous behavior predispose one to eat or undercook meat? But even that is untested.

  • This study is wrong - all of us know that's not how it works!

    The parasite makes men more attractive, more intelligent, and enables them to play strange futuristic instruments.

    On the other hand, if you do wish to dislodge it, all you have to do is tickle the pelvic splanchnic ganglion [tv.com] and get ready for the ride of your lives.

    *Side effects can include massive bone loss.

  • by anhdres (844345) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @12:25PM (#17409224)
    First thing I thought while reading the title was "hey great more Futurama news!"
  • I need to (Score:5, Funny)

    by fireslack (1039158) <fireslack@gmail.com> on Saturday December 30, 2006 @12:35PM (#17409326) Journal
    Get my wife a cat!
  • In the year 2007, a parasite is released into the earth's atmosphere rendering women more aggressive and men more dumb. The balance of power shifts and men become subservient to women. And when things can't seem to get any worse, the true intent of the parasite surfaces. (cue in action music)
  • by jamrock (863246) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @01:56PM (#17410116)

    I remember reading a few months ago that some reseachers had a found a higher incidence of schizophrenia among persons who, when small children, had had cats in their households, leading some to believe that Toxoplasmosis gondii may be a causal factor. Apparently, it is claimed that new research has confirmed this [schizophrenia.com]. This is of personal interest to me because my 14 year-old son was infected by Toxoplasmosis a couple years ago during a vist to Trinidad. Physicians suspect that the most likely source was my wife's aunt's home-made yogurt, which my kids love. My wife's aunt is an animal lover, and keeps numerous dogs and cats, as well as feeding hosts of wild birds that descend on the house every morning.

    It was discovered after he complained about spots in his vision, and an opthalmological determined that there was a lesion on his retina which was flaking away. A blood test confirmed the presence of Toxoplasmosis gondii. Now he has to have an annual examination to ensure that the parasite is being kept under control by antibiotics, but it's always an extremely apprehensive time for us.

  • Well, that MIGHT be enough to keep Kirk away....
  • Somebody get me a brain slug. Stat!
  • by tgeller (10260) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @03:52PM (#17411078) Homepage
    I can't believe nobody's made the obvious and obligatory Futurama reference [tv.com].
  • ...to explain stupid human pet tricks.

    Human nature is quite adequate.

    Maybe these researchers have seen too many Star Wars movies where the "midichlorians" (or however that's spelled) control everything through "The Force". When that concept first came out in Star Wars, I thought Lucas had totally lost it - it was brain dead.

    OTOH, I've thought about Drexler's notion of embedding nanotech computers and robots into every cell of the human body. What would happen if you had trillions of human cells loaded up wi
  • What bothers me is that the article in SMH doesn't indicate whether this effect is permanent.
  • Does this 'parasite' happen to look like a black ooze?

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. -- R. Buckminster Fuller

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