Imagine that pesky tabby cat has been pooing in your backyard again. Unbeknown to you, it has transposed some of the parasite spores “its been” carrying onto your herb garden. Unintentionally, while preparing a delicious salad, you forget to rinse your hands and foul yourself with the Toxoplasma gondii spores. For months you display no symptoms, then after six months you are driving your automobile more aggressively, taking hazards in street junctions and generally filled with more road rage as you angrily gesticulate with fellow motorists. Could all this be linked to that tasty salad?

T. gondii is a fascinating protozoan parasite which, like many similar organisms, needs to move between several different multitude species in order to fully develop and simulate. As such, it appears to have derived clever means to do transmitting between multitudes more likely. For lesson, subjects have found that once rats intermediate hosts are infected they display less careful towards cats the final stage hosts and so the parasite is more likely to be passed on.

An increasing number of studies show humen known to be infected with these parasites could be more susceptible to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, aggression and even increased suicide. Survey have even showed you are two to three times more likely to have a car gate-crash if your blood tests positive for the parasite. This is particularly astonishing when it has been was expected that 30% -5 0 %~ ATAGEND of the worldwide person may carry the parasite.

Not so cute when you know what theyre carrying. Shutterstock

Chicken or egg ?

Very often criticisms of these studies come down to a chicken and egg interrogate. Correlation doesnt necessary aim causality. Are those aggressive, fast-driving people or those with behavioural states more likely to catch the parasites, or does the parasite cause these behavioural attributes? Many of the studies were done retrospectively rather than looking at people behaviour before and after they grew infected with the parasites. So for now, we cant was sure whether your road rage actually was linked to your salad.

What we do know is that there are plenty of illustrations in wildlife where parasites can manipulate the copulation, raise, maturation, habitat and behaviour of their emcees. Fuzz insects, for instance, terminated their lifecycle in a flow or flow and appear to making such a legions crickets attracted to ocean.

The effects of the parasite dont stop there, either. The hapless crickets can provide fish with alternative solutions food source to their customary food of aquatic invertebrates and, for parts of the year, can form a substantial part of their food. So manipulating parasites can be important to insisting healthy ecosystems.

Some ant species fouled by trematode flukes are influenced in a way that becomes them cling to the surfaces of blades of grass, which means theyre more likely to be dined by sheep. This permits the fluke to complete its life cycle in the sheep.

Chestburster. mardeltaxa/ Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A type of barnacle parasite known as a rhizocephalan, which dines its crab emcee from the inside out, is known to feminise its male multitudes by castrating them. Scientists have suggested they are then more likely to look after the parasite sac that abounds through their abdomens, often like a female is a tendency to her eggs.

Swapping on genes

Through advances in molecular biology, we are increasingly works out how these parasites can change behaviour by altering gene showing the acces genes can be turned on or off. For speciman, work in our laboratory at the University of Portsmouth is trying to uncover existing mechanisms that allows a newly discovered species of trematode parasite make their shrimp-like( amphipods) hosts more attracted to the light.

Trematodes: little blighters. Josef Reischig/ Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

These amphipods would prefer to be concealing under seaweed on our shorings, escaping their fowl predators as the tide recedes. By chemically delineating the mind of polluted prawn, scientists have discovered that parasites somehow modified the shrimps’ serotonin, a mood neurotransmitter acquired throughout the animal kingdom. Our recent surveys have indicated that polluted prawns have subtle differences to their serotonin receptors and the enzymes that grow serotonin.

Other subjects have shown amphipods hosting similar parasites are over 20 occasions more likely to be eaten compared to non-infected specimen. Again, this highlights the often-overlooked importance of brain-bending parasites in the natural ordering of food webs.

We often think we must have discovered all the species possible in well-studied points such as the UK, but many fascinating new operating parasites are yet to be discovered on our doorsteps. Our knowledge of how these brain-bending parasites treated with human species will no doubt develop more strongly over the next decade.

Alex Ford, Reader in Biology, University of Portsmouth


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