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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Zombie-fying parasites

Ever since reading about Toxoplasma gondii in the book Monkeyluv I have been interested in zombie-fying parasites, they are cooler and more twisted then anything the film industry has come up with. Here is what T. gondii does (from the paper Fatal attraction in rats infected with Toxoplasma gondii (Berdoy et al 2000):
"although rats have evolved anti-predator avoidance of areas with signs of cat presence, T. gondii's manipulation appears to alter the rat's perception of cat predation risk, in some cases turning their innate aversion into an imprudent attraction. The selectivity of such behavioural changes suggests that this ubiquitous parasite subtly alters the brain of its intermediate host to enhance predation rate whilst leaving other behavioural categories and general health intact. This is in contrast to the gross impediments frequently characteristic of many other host parasite systems." came out with a list of the Top 10 Zombie parasites. Sadly, Toxoplasma gondii didn't make the list but the Lancet fluke is almost as incredible:
"Another one that messes with ants, the adult lancet fluke inhabits the body of a cow, releasing its eggs into the host’s feces. Snails, who happen to enjoy a nice hot cow pie, end up eating the eggs and getting infested with worm larvae. The snails react to the larvae by spitting them back out in big balls of slime, and these wormy slimeballs smell incredibly delicious to passing ants. Once eaten by an ant, the worm waits until nightfall – when it’s nice and cool – and forces the ant to climb a blade of grass, bite down on the tip, and raise its butt into the air. This is the perfect position to get swallowed by another cow, and if the ant doesn’t get swallowed? The worm releases control in the morning, allows the ant to live a normal day of anthood, and repeats the whole process night after night. It’s just like a vampire, if vampires awoke every night trying to get eaten by cows, so actually nothing like a vampire. Nevermind."
Go to the Top 10 Zombie parasites at to read the rest of the list

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