Strange effects of Toxoplasmosis gondii

Flipping through a few of the “Freshly Pressed” blogs here on WordPress, I came across this post. In it, a pregnant woman is screened for T. gondii, a fairly routine test, but she describes the virus in a little more detail.

Now, I first heard about T. gondii in my comparative anatomy class, with a quick snippet about how pregnant women need to avoid it. Then, a year later, in my developmental biology class, my professor mentioned details on how the virus affected the development of a fetus, and the importance of keeping a pregnant lady away from kitty litter.

But what really got me was the Radio Lab feature I listened to one day. In it, they went deeper into the true effects of the virus, explaining how it controls the mind of the rats that it infects in order to get to it’s breeding grounds, the intestines of cats. What the virus does to the rats is take the natural reaction, fear of cats, and turns it on end. Suddenly, the rat is actually attracted to cats (In the sexual manner). Because of this, the rats make themselves available to the cats, who promptly kill them, as cats do. Then the virus can go on and reproduce inside the cat and continue the circle of life.

The virus has no reason to infect humans, it usually happens by accident, but because rat brains and human brains are so similarly wired, it has been seen to show some sort of effect on us. Some scientists think that this is why some people are cat people. It’s thought that maybe if you were exposed to the virus, and infected, that you’d have a natural affinity for cats, along with some other effects, such as slower reaction times.

Such a neat little virus.

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About Katie

I'm a student at MSU, but I drive safari trucks on my days off. I love animals, and I love trying to tell people about them. I also have an incurable obsession with Disney.
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