Monday, September 20, 2010

Creature Feature: Toxoplasma gondii.

If you have kept up with my dA page as well as this blog, you have probably noticed me watching a lot of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, an anime series based off of a phenomenally successful Japanese visual novel. One of the recurring themes later on in the series is a document that gets constantly debunked with the argument that no parasite could ever control a human mind.

My response to that: BAHAHAHA! That's a good one; I think I snorted pomegranate juice out of my nose. Joke's on you, suited motherfuckers! There are tons of parasites that do just that!

Ahem. Seriously, though? Your body has tons of parasites in it at this very moment. You are a warm-blooded mammal in proximity to many other warm-blooded mammals on a daily basis; that is paradise for any number of little critters. What on earth makes you less viable than a dog or cat as a host? For Ai's sake, there are two types of lice unique to humans - human head lice and human pubic lice. If complex invertebrates can evolve so specifically, imagine how many microbes have evolved just to feed on us.

Scary, isn't it?

Probably the most notorious brainwashing parasite is Toxoplasma gondii. Nature treats humanity like it's nothing special; T. gondii is really a cat parasite that just so happens to work for humans as well as several other animals.

It is as Ceiling Cat wishes.

T. gondii's life cycle starts out like something out of science fiction: First, the parasite infects a rat that has presumably had contact with cat feces. Then, in an amazing display of brainwashing, T. gondii removes the rat's fear of felines so completely that the rat is actually attracted to the scent of cat urine.

Suddenly, this makes sense.

As one may have expected, this leads to the rat getting eaten. The parasites then spend the rest of their lives in the cat's guts, mating and breeding there with few ill effects on the cat, until...

Toxy spreads like a YouTube meme: Through poop.

After being literally shat out of a cat's system, the cycle begins anew. Whenever a creature - including a human - comes into contact with cat crap, they risk acquiring the parasite.

Usually, it stays harmless; sure, the person may suddenly develop an affinity for cats, but otherwise it's nothing to worry about. It only kicks in when a human's immune system is weakened by pregnancy, AIDS or, well, any other method; then it becomes a potentially lethal infection called toxoplasmosis.

Pictured: A mild case of toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis attacks the glial cells in the brain. For those of us who are not neuroscientists, the glial cells help hold your neurons together and transmit a few signals of their own. They make up a very large percentage of the human brain - that's where that "you only use 10% of your brain" BS came from. The resulting infection thus has symptoms that resemble (and can be treated with medicine for) schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is not MPD. As per Wikipedia, the typical symptoms of schizophrenia are "A person diagnosed with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations (most commonly hearing voices), delusions (often bizarre or persecutory in nature), and disorganized thinking and speech." It's a lot more than the name ("split mind") lets on.

Severe toxoplasmosis at its finest.

But that's rare, right? Y'know, it probably only occurs in Africa or some other non-developed areas of the world...right? Right?!

No. Half of the human population on the whole entire planet is infected with Toxoplasmosa. Crap!

Want more details? Click here.

By the way, if you think dogs are a safer option, they have their own set of bugs for you to deal with. You aren't safe anywhere.

Don't worry, Mittens. We can't stay mad at you.

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