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Biotech Science

Parasites Makes Us Dumber or Sexier 240

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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  • 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 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: usness_in_the_Breakdown_of_the_Bicameral_Mind [] []

    Also if you haven't read snow crash, you must do so immediately. ;)
  • Re:Remember, kids! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lagfest ( 959022 ) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @06:01AM (#17407594)
    I don't see any correlation between Crazy Cat Lady and being more attractive. So there's your proof.
  • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @06:40AM (#17407714)
    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 sticking their fingers in their mouth. Cats are a big vector for this.

    I believe that antiparasitic drugs can't cross the blood-brain barrier and kill the parasites in your brain, only in other parts of the body. So you can get this creepy parasite and be stuck for life with it breeding inside your brain. This is why I just don't put up with cats in the household. The risk is too high, the reward too small.

    And finally, if I wanted a brain parasite sucking out my intelligence, I'd learn .NET programming.

  • 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.
  • Re:Remember, kids! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Saturday December 30, 2006 @10:16AM (#17408472) Journal
    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 kjcole ( 781817 ) on Saturday December 30, 2006 @11:04AM (#17408704) Homepage Journal

    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 men like the end result.

    Since the rat study indicated that the parasite changed rat behavior to increase its own chances of survival (while putting the host rat at risk of being eaten by a cat), I wonder if the results of the behavior modification in humans could potentially result in more pregnancies and might therefore be a failed attempt by the parasite to insure survival as well.

  • 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.

  • 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 []. 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.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!