Toxoplasma Mind Control

Thanks to slashdot and Yahoo! News, I just finished reading Mind Control by Parasites, The premise here is that 50% of the world’s population is infected by Toxoplasma gondii (a parasite that lives in a cat’s gut).

Toxo (as it is lovingly called at the Merrimac River Feline Rescue Society) starts off in rats. Now rats won’t venture into areas where cat’s are prevalent. How do rats know where the cats are? They smell cat urine and they scarper. However, when a rats become hosts to our little friend, Toxo, they seemingly change their mind and start hanging out in areas that cats frequent.

We can all agree that’s not terrible sensible behaviour for the rat. It’s great for Toxo, because the rat gets eaten and Toxo moves on to a new home in the belly of a cat.

All this is perfectly reasonable. The author then adds the following one sentence paragraph, which no doubt is meant to make our hair stand on end:

If the parasite can alter rat behavior, does it have any effect on humans?

Toxo is really bad for expecting mothers. If you become a host during your pregnancy, I think Anna said your babies head falls off or her legs swell up and explode or something like that.

But what effect does it have on the rest of us? I suspect it just makes us want to sit in our cat’s litter boxes. After all, where else are we going to find a strong smell of cat urine?

Augustus, don’t look at me so hungrily!