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Why zombie ants infected by mind-controlling fungus always kill themselves at high noon

By John Mcdonnell

Last updated at 3:16 PM on 13th May 2011
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1386717/Why-zombie-a...

A parasitic fungus has the ability to take over the mind and body of an ant before leading it to its final resting place at the most opportune time, an astonishing study has revealed.

The fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps, was found living in carpenter ants in Thailand's rain forest, controlling their nervous system so they became a vessel with one purpose: helping the fungus reproduce.

As the fungus spreads through the ant's body it begins to act irregularly before it eventually dies with its jaws clamped around the vein of a leaf in a place perfect for the parasite to thrive, it was found.

Scroll down to watch video

A dead carpenter ant, with fungus sprouting from its head. A parasitic fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps, has the ability to take over the mind and body of the ant before leading it to its final resting place

A dead carpenter ant, with fungus sprouting from its head. A parasitic fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps, has the ability to take over the mind and body of the ant before leading it to its final resting place

A dead ant clamped to the vein on the underside of a leaf. Researchers witnessed a total of 16 infected ants leave their colony and bite into a leaf near the jungle floor before dying, all at a time very close to midday

A dead ant clamped to the vein on the underside of a leaf. Researchers witnessed a total of 16 infected ants leave their colony and bite into a leaf near the jungle floor before dying, all at a time very close to midday

Researchers witnessed a total of 16 infected ants leave their colony and bite into the underside of a leaf before dying - all at a time very close to midday.

'Synchronised arrival of zombie ants at the graveyards is a remarkable phenomenon. It adds a layer of complexity on what is already an impressive feat,' David Hughes, a study researcher from Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience.com.

 

'However, although ants bite at noon they don't in fact die until sunset. Likely this strategy ensures (the fungus) has a long cool night ahead of it during which time it can literally burst out of the ant's head to begin the growth of the spore-releasing stalk.'

By dissecting infected ants, it was discovered that when they took their final living act - biting down into the vein of a leaf - their head was filled with fungal cells, which appeared to affect the motion of the jaw so the mouth could not be opened again.

The head of the carpenter ant becomes filled with fungal cells, which appear to affect the motion of the jaw so the mouth cannot be opened again once clamped onto a leaf

The head of the carpenter ant becomes filled with fungal cells, which appear to affect the motion of the jaw so the mouth cannot be opened again once clamped onto a leaf

It was found that a few days after the ants ingest the fungus they become zombie-like, no longer following trails and interacting with other ants, and instead wandering aimlessly until they fall out of the forest canopy.

They then wander just above the jungle floor until a perfect place for fungus reproduction is found.

It is much cooler and moister at this level than high up in trees, making it much easier for fungus to thrive.

The fungus eventually sprouts out of the dead ant's head, allowing fungal


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1386717/Why-zombie-a...

 

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CDC warns Americans to prepare for zombie apocalypse (really)

Thursday, May 19, 2011
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com


Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/032454_zombie_apocalypse_CDC.html#ixzz1a...

 

NaturalNews) Although it may seem unbelievable, this is not a satire piece or a joke. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which has been deeply engaged in the fictions of Swine Flu and other so-called "pandemics," is now publicly warning Americans to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.

In a May 16th blog entry on the CDC.gov website (http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthma...), author Ali S. Khan asks the question, "Where do zombies come from and why do they love eating brains so much?" The article then goes on to suppose that "zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder - How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?"

The CDC has apparently been listening to my hip-hop song Vaccine Zombie (http://www.naturalnews.com/vaccine_...) and decided to run with the concept. Vaccines, of course, are the real source of zombies because they eat your brain (and cause autism, too). For some reason, the CDC didn't mention that...

Government preparedness tips... much like military intelligence

The CDC's zombie apocalypse article is, of course, an effort to reach a younger crowd by appealing to mainstream youth interests which now include anything having to do with vampires and zombies. The article actually offers a useful but rudimentary set of preparedness tips that include gathering up emergency medicine supplies, food, water and tools.

Some of the strategies include preparing all your "important documents" such as your passport and birth certificate. This is obviously based on the idea that you are going to be relocated and will probably end up as a refugee of some sort (in a FEMA camp, no doubt). So remember to bring your birth certificate. Of course, if you don't actually have a birth certificate, you can always use Photoshop to create one from a collage of random scanned documents and no one will notice the difference these days. Not even the mainstream media.

Not surprisingly, the CDC also strongly suggests that you should bring your medications with you, because of course the entire U.S. public has already been infected with a zombie-like medical mythology that causes them to believe the human body is somehow deficient in prescription drugs. Without their meds, people think they might die! Although there are a few cases where this is true, by and large medications harm far more people than they help. But that's another story...

CDC: Do not defend yourself against the attacking zombies

One thing the CDC has utterly left out of its preparedness list, not surprisingly, is any kind of self defense weapon. Zombie lore is rife with all kinds of weapons: shotguns, chain saws, flamethrowers, swords and knives. Hand grenades, explosives and rockets are also prominently featured in zombie flicks. These weapons are usually what save the movie characters from being overrun by marauding zombies.

But the CDC says nothing about weapons. Not even a basic combat knife or a 22 pistol to keep handy. I guess the idea of people preparing for emergencies with some citizen weaponry isn't something the government wants to encourage, huh? Just be sure to have your papers in order but not your personal safety.

Instead, the CDC says it will save you. "Never Fear - CDC is Ready!" it says. It goes on to explain:

CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine).

"Infection control" means arrested infected people at gunpoint and moving them into "infection zones" where everybody is infected and anyone who tries to flee is shot. That's how a quarantine actually works, in case you didn't know. Ask the CDC yourself if you don't believe me.

How to get yourself killed? Follow the CDC

So here's the CDC's advice so far. If there's a zombie apocalypse, then according to the CDC you're supposed to evacuate with your prescription medications and your birth certificate, then head out into the zombie-infested world without a weapon? And then somehow you're supposed to magically survive a zombie assault long enough for the CDC to come quarantine you and your neighbors because you've probably already been exposed since you were totally defenseless.

Gee, is there any doubt this is a government plan? Don't protect yourself, folks, the government will save you! Grab your passport (they'll be checking your papers at police checkpoints) and remember your meds (because that will keep you docile and suggestible), but don't bring anything like a 45-caliber Glock pistol that might actually help you fend off the zombies. Or a pump action Remington 12 gauge with a couple hundred extra rounds of home defense shells. Seriously, you can't have a zombie invasion without a 12 gauge shotgun being involved, can ya? Or some 40mm grenade launchers. That's how you really take out a bunch of zombies. At least that's how it works in Hollywood.

If you're in a city where you're not allowed to own firearms, you can always try to fight off the zombies with golf clubs. That never works out very well in the zombie movies, however. Just so you know.

One enterprising inventor has strapped a chainsaw to the underside of an AR-15 and developed the ultimate zombie-killing weapon: The AR-15AZ (Anti-Zombie) device, which he demonstrates on a collection of pumpkins in a video you'll find on this page: http://mazurland.typepad.com/mywebl...

All he needs now is to add a flamethrower, and he's all set.

CDC has lost all credibility and now resorts to B-movie fictions to push its propaganda

The sad part in all this is that thanks to the swine flu fiasco which was an obvious fabrication of a pandemic in order to sell useless vaccines to people, the CDC has lost a lot of its credibility. Hey, even I used to respect the CDC as a serious agency that was dedicated to trying to stop infectious disease, but after the swine flu situation, it became completely obvious that the CDC is now just Big Pharma's vaccine pimp squad. It is so steeped in corruption that even one of its own former scientists has now been indicted by a federal jury on charges of money laundering and fraud (http://www.naturalnews.com/032216_T...).

On top of that, the former head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding -- who was also one of the top disease mongers pushing vaccines over the last few years -- now runs the global vaccine division for Merck. How's that for a revolving door between the CDC and the vaccine makers? (http://www.naturalnews.com/027789_D...)

So now the CDC is basically a joke to anyone really paying attention to health and infectious disease. We now know that almost everything coming out of the CDC's press office is a politically motivated, profit-driven fabrication designed to push useless vaccines or scare people into thinking they're about to be killed by some other mutating flu virus. That's why it's no surprise to see the CDC using the zombie apocalypse fiction as a propaganda catapult. And hey, why not? The CDC is already steeped in complete fictions and B-movie fabrications. They might as well just start interviewing fairies, leprechauns and garden gnomes, too. They're about as credible as CDC scientists these days.

But at least the CDC's preparedness advice offers tidbits of real value: Have an emergency kit with food, water, tools and first aid. That's more than what President Obama says. In response to the Fukushima meltdown -- which has now been confirmed to be a far worse disaster than Chernobyl, with multiple core meltdowns -- Obama told Americans to not prepare at all! (http://www.naturalnews.com/031735_O...)

Just listen to the government and await instructions, he said. That's the official White House preparedness plan. If you can even call it a plan.

The NaturalNews preparedness plan is a far better choice if you want to survive what's coming. Because, as you'll see below, a zombie apocalypse actually isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

Why a zombie apocalypse may be more real than you think

The average American consumer is already a half-zombie right now. They eat prion-infected meat; they drink fluoride in the water; they get vaccinated every year with neurological irritants (adjuvants); they watch network television news for "programming" and they take psychiatric medications that alter their brain chemistry. That pushes quite a large number of them into the "functioning zombie" realm of cognitive dysfunction.

In other words, they still manage to dress themselves, eat some food, use the toilet and punch a time card working some government job, but behind the apparent human face, they are already 50% zombie.

It won't take much to push these near-zombies over the edge into total zombiehood. A bit of radiation, a couple more winter flu shots, or even a series of neurologically-engineered red flashes broadcast on the evening news could activate the zombie brains of the American masses, causing them to spill out into the streets in their underwear, with Doritos crumbling down the front of their wife beater T-shirts, mouths gaping wide open as they stumble down the sidewalks of America's suburbs looking for fresh flesh to feed upon.

This part is not fiction, by the way. I'm serious about this. The zombie mind of the masses has already been prepped by mercury poisoning, pesticides, fluoride, aspartame and other chemical exposures. It will only take the right trigger to unleash the zombie masses, at which point you will definitely wish you went beyond the CDC's silly advice and got yourself a 12 gauge (or a really good pair of sneakers with which to flee).

The real question is: Do you have enough zombie ammo? And how fast can you reload? Sadly, the CDC did not address these questions. The truth is that most people do not have much zombie ammo at all, so after a few rounds, it's going to be like click... pause... gobble, gobble, slurp. And then suddenly you're a zombie and you'll be roaming the streets of a large American city looking for fresh flesh, much like a Congressman or the head of the IMF.

Truthfully, we need more fiction

In a way, I actually kind of admire this fictional approach by the CDC. I wish more government agencies would just admit they're writing fictions from the get go. Wouldn't it be more useful for us all if the DEA, for example, just admitted its entire War On Drugs was one great big fiction? Wouldn't it save us all a few trillion dollars if the Department of War (oops, I mean, the Department of Defense) openly admitted that its multiple imperialist wars were all based on fictional justifications?

I think other U.S. departments should take a cue from the CDC and start writing fictions to explain all their actions. It would be a lot more entertaining and, in a strange way, actually more honest. The White House, of course, has a huge head start in this realm going all the way back to George W. Bush and his "war on terror" -- which is the intellectual equivalent to the CDC's "zombie apocalypse."

Both are entirely imaginary, yet useful as metaphors for the weak-minded.

The bottom line is that you and I should always be prepared to protect ourselves not only from unexpected events but also from the government's bizarre, distorted attempts to feed our brains conveniently processed tidbits of disinformation.

And if zombies really do hit the streets, bring out your flamethrower and get to work like a contestant in a flame-broiled frying contest. Somebody has to save humanity during the next outbreak of mental madness, and it sure won't be the CDC.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/032454_zombie_apocalypse_CDC.html#ixzz1a...

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-buzz/post/happy-halloween-m...

Posted at 02:42 PM ET, 10/31/2011

Happy Halloween? Mind-controlling zombie parasites in D.C.


Not pictured: Parasites (Gene Page - AP)
Just in time for Halloween, a story about the District’s zombie flies — really — has hit the airwaves.

NPR reports that earlier this year, millions of flies in Washington D.C. were attacked by a mind-controlling fungus that essentially turned them into zombies.

“It basically zombie-izes them. In other words, it manipulates their behavior,”said Mike Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland. “]The fly] moves to a high point, let’s say the tip of a blade of grass.”

The fly then dies on the blade in question, and more of the mind-control parasites erupt from its body. But — and you knew this part of the story was coming — it’s not just flies at risk of mind control.


There’s a parasite called toxoplasma gondii that makes rats attracted to the scent of cats. There are tales of hairworms exploding out of cricket bodies once the worms reach maturity within their host. And National Geographic details Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani, a mind-control fungi which has the ability to take over an ant’s brain and kill it once the insect moves to a fungi-friendly area. (For even more on this topic, there’s a Parasitic Mind Control Facebook page. Who knew?)

Are humans next? Research isn’t anywhere near conclusive — but never say never.

“If you take the world of parasites broadly, we don’t know the half of it yet,” said Janice Moore, a professor at Colorado State University.

Of course we’re on Facebook:

Click the “like” button below to like PostLocal on Facebook.

 

By | 02:42 PM ET, 10/31/2011

"Zombie Ant" Fungus Under Attack—By Another Fungus

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/120504-zombie-ant-f...

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published May 4, 2012

To hear David Hughes tell it, rain forest floors are littered with corpses of fungus-infected "zombie ants." This made the entomologist wonder: How do the lucky ants escape zombification?

The answer, his team found, is that the ants have an unwitting ally: a fungus that "castrates" the zombie-ant fungus.

Ant zombification begins when an Ophiocordyceps fungus shoots spores onto an insect. The parasitic fungus gradually takes over the ant's brain and directs the insect to a cool, moist location. The fungus then kills the ant, and fruiting bodies erupt from the ant's head and spread more spores.

"When you go into the forest, you find graveyards of these [infected] cadavers," said study leader Hughes, of Penn State.

"That would suggest that, for the ants running around the forest floor, it's terribly precarious—it must be festooned with spores of these fungi."

Not so, Hughes and his team discovered.

Combining new data from Brazilian zombie-ant graveyards with from previous studies of Thai graveyards, the scientists realized that an as yet unnamed fungus keeps the zombie-ant fungus in check.

"The vast majority [of zombie-ant spores] have been taken out of the game" by the other fungus, Hughes said.

(See pictures: "Photos: 'Zombie' Ants Found With New Mind-Control Fungi.")

The fungus-killing fungus chemically "castrates" its zombie-making cousin, Hughes explained—and highly effectively, at that.

The team's analyses showed that only 6.5 percent of zombie-ant fungus specimens were able to produce spores—meaning that the unnamed fungus largely limits Ophiocordyceps' spread.

Hughes likens the situation to oak-tree reproduction. "Of all those little acorns, the vast majority die—only a few get to be mature," he said.

"There are lots of these really cool interactions going on daily in the forest," Hughes added, "and I think we should be studying them in more detail."

The fungus-versus-fungus study appears in the May 2 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

 

Ant Zombie Tale: Mind-Controlling Fungus Loses to Lethal Foe

Date: 04 May 2012 Time: 11:06 AM ET

 

 

http://www.livescience.com/20099-ant-zombie-mind-controlling-fungus...

A fungus that invades the brains of ants, turning them into zombies on a death march, may have met its match. Another parasitic fungus, it turns out, effectively castrates the zombie-ant fungus so it can't spread its spores, a new study finds.

The finding explains how an ant colony can survive infestations by the zombie-ant fungus.

"In a case where biology is stranger than fiction, the parasite of the zombie-ant fungus is itself a fungus, a hyperparasitic fungus that specializes in attacking the parasite that turns the ants into zombies," said study leader David Hughes of Penn State University in a statement.

 

Fungi in the genus Ophiocordycepsare known to infest an ant's brain, manipulating the ant to drunkenly wander along the rain-forest leaves before clamping its jaws around the main vein on the leaf's underside mass grave; past research by Hughes found the ants are manipulated to clamp down on that leaf at high noon, though they don't actually die until sunset, possibly a strategy that gives the fungus a long cool night during which it can burst from the ant's head and begin growing its spore-releasing stalk. [Mind Control: Gallery of Zombie Ants]

These mass graves stay around in the same spot for years sometimes, a plus for scientists wanting to estimate mortality rates due to zombie parasitism.

Hughes and his colleagues had noticed while walking through these rain forests they would see the zombie-ant fungi covered in a white, fluffy fungus.

 

"What we found was that there was another player involved, something we hadn't considered before," Hughes told LiveScience. "This hyperparasite fungus is gaining its lunch by eating the zombie-ant fungus, limiting the fungus from producing spores."

It's a "hyper" parasite fungus, because it actually lives on, or infests, another parasite (the brain-manipulating fungus).

Secrets of survival

To find out just how beneficial this hyperparasite might be, the international team of researchers used data collected in the rain forests of Brazil and Thailand of the ants Camponotus leonardi (Thailand) and C. rufipes(Brazil), along with the two zombie-ant fungal species, Ophiocordyceps unilateralisand O. camponoti-rufipedis, that infect those ants, respectively. The data included various graveyards with information about each ant cadaver in each graveyard, such as whether the ant cadaver had a stalk growing from its head with no fruiting body (the soccer-ball-shape structure holding the spores), one with a fruiting body, or one with a fruiting body covered in the hyperparasite fungus.

They also crafted a model with this information to look at the life stages of the mind-controlling parasite. Their results showed that only about 6.5 percent of those soccer-ball-shape organs on the tops of stalks were viable. The fluffy hyperparasite fungus essentially grows on top of this spore ball and starts munching.

"Even though there are a lot of dead and infected zombie ants in the neighborhood, only a few of the spores of the zombie-ant fungus will become mature and able to infect healthy ants," Hughes said.

Their findings, detailed online May 2 in the journal PLoS ONE, suggest the crowded graveyards strewn with zombie-ant cadavers belie the actual danger to the ant colony as a whole, Hughes said.

Hughes is primarily interested in studying how diseases spread, for instance, through tropical rain forests, saying that ant colonies are like little cities in the rain forest where he can study transmission from ant to ant and from colony to colony.

Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Some fungal-farming ants are loyal to their crops

In fact, surprising new study indicates they both may be evolving together

Alex Wild
Cyphomyrmex wheeleri ants in Texas tend their fungus garden. The garden consists of a particular fungal species that the ants and their ancestors have continuously cultivated for more than 5 million years.
By Wynne Parry
updated 5/15/2012 4:21:15 PM ET2012-05-15T20:21:15

A group of fungi-farming ants are not only loyal to particular species of fungus, the relationship is so close it appears the ants and the fungus may be evolving together, a new study indicates.

Each species of farming ants exclusively grows a particular species of fungus to feed their colony, even when the ants' nests are spread as far apart as Costa Rica, Panama or Ecuador, said the researchers, who calculated that the oldest of these relationships traces back more than 5 million years.

This dedication was surprising; previous work on other groups of fungus-farmer ants had suggested more diffuse relationships, with multiple ant species cultivating multiple fungal species.

The close relationships between these ants and fungus have important implications for their evolution; the results of the new study suggest that when ants switch crops, they diverge into a new species.

"That is probably the most intriguing part of all this, it was driving speciation," said Ted Schultz, a research entomologist with the Smithsonian Institution and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. Speciation refers to the formation of new species. [ Image Gallery: Ants of The World ]

 

Fungus for life
About 240 species of fungus-farming ants have been described, with the most high-profile one being leaf-cutter ants that collect leaves to feed a fungal crop that cannot survive without the farmers (likewise, the ants can't survive without the fungal food). Leaf-cutter ants belong to a group that evolved from ants that practice what entomologists refer to as a lower agriculture, growing fungi that can also survive alone, without attention from the farmer ants.

This study focused on a group of ant species named for the first species identified, Cyphomyrmex wheeleri,which belongs with the lower fungus-growing ants. Even so, C. wheeleri is fairly closely related to the higher fungus-growing ants.

Researchers' interest was piqued when they found two members of this group of species, C. longiscapus and C. muelleri, each cultivate a different fungus. These two ant species, however, can live in nests within inches of each other — indicating they have the opportunity to interbreed but were not doing it.

"We wondered, 'Could what fungus you grow have anything to do with speciation?'" Schultz said, referring to the emergence of new species.

Ants rely on odor to identify potential mates from their own species, so it is possible male and female fungus-growing ants choose mates in part by recognizing the odor of the fungus with which the potential mate grew up, Schultz said.

Ant speciation
To test the hunch that the evolution of ant species was tied to the species of fungus they cultivated, the research team, led by Natasha J. Mehdiabadi of the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Maryland, analyzed DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, the code that makes up genes) from 138 individual ants and 405 fungal samples taken from 88 nests in Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, California and Texas. They also incorporated genetic data from other, related ant and fungal species into family trees they reconstructed for both the ants and the fungi. [ Infographic: The Life of an Ant ]

"Contrary to expectation, we found that each ant species has been exclusively associated with a single fungal cultivar 'species' for millions of years — even though alternative cultivars are readily available," the team writes in research detailed Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

While each species of ants appeared loyal to a particular fungus, the fungi themselves were not as loyal, sometimes serving as a crop for more than one species of ant.

Even so, the relationships appear to have affected the evolution of the fungi as well, since they, too, appear to have diverged from their ancestors starting when they were first farmed by the ant ancestors of the C. wheeleri species, Schultz told LiveScience, adding that none of these current fungal groups is known to have free-living forms.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

Mind-Control Parasites Hijack Immune System, Too

 
A parasite known for its ability to influence the minds of its hosts also hijacks the immune system, a new study finds. In fact, the parasite uses cells that would normally help defeat it as transport to get around the body.

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny parasite that infects about a quarter of the world's population. Most human infections are asymptomatic, though research has hinted the parasite might have subtle behavioral influences. Infected individuals are more likely to attempt suicide, for example, and T. gondii infection may increase brain cancer risk.

The parasite's real interests, however, are cats and rodents. T. gondii can live in any warm-blooded creature, but it prefers to end up in the gut of a cat, where it can breed. To do so, the parasite takes control of the minds of its rodent hosts, making the smell of cat urine sexually appealing to them rather than scary. That ups the chances a rodent will cozy up to a cat and get scarfed down, along with the parasite.

How T. gondii gets in

T. gondii spreads into humans through contact with infected animal feces or undercooked meat. Questions remain about how the parasite is so successful at evading the immune system and infecting the body, however. Swedish researchers led by Antonio Barragan of Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge in Sweden wanted to find out.

Earlier studies had found that an infection by T. gondii makes a certain type of immune cell go haywire. These cells, called dendritic cells, are spiny little free-floaters that move throughout the body's tissues. When a dendritic cell meets a foreign invader, it engulfs and processes it, carrying the pieces to lymph nodes, which then launch a full immune attack.

When infected by T. gondii, dendritic cells start moving at hyper-speed. Barragan and his colleagues suspected that the parasite might be invading the cells and using them to get around the body like a city bus, but they didn't know how. [Top 10 Most Disgusting & Diabolical Parasites]

Chemical hijacking

By infecting both human and mice dendritic cells with the parasite, the researchers found the cells suddenly produced increased levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that is important for brain cell function. GABA also makes dendritic cells go, the researchers found — infected cells making more of the chemical began moving in more random directions and did so faster than uninfected dendritic cells.

"For toxoplasma to make cells in the immune defense secrete GABA was as surprising as it was unexpected, and is very clever of the parasite," Barragan said in a statement.

The researchers then infected live mice with T. gondii and treated some of them with compounds that inhibit the release of GABA. They found that in treated mice, parasite levels were 2.8 times lower than untreated mice four days post-infection. Those findings suggest that T. gondii is indeed using the immune system as a free ride around the body.

The findings are published today (Dec. 6) in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/12/06/when-microorganisms-c...

By ABC News

Dec 6, 2012 10:25am

When Microorganisms Control the Mind

Reported by Dr. Lauren Browne:

By the time famed Victorian artist Louis Wain was committed to the pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in South London in 1924, he had painted and sketched thousands of cats.

His early works depicted humorous wide-eyed human-like cats, but his later feline creations were abstract figures exploding in fiery kaleidoscopes of geometric shapes, thought to mirror his own mental deterioration.

The exact nature of Wain’s mental illness is still debated, but many agree that he suffered from schizophrenia, becoming hostile and delusional prior to hospitalization. And some speculate further that it was a parasite from one of his beloved cats that ultimately triggered his schizophrenic break.

Bugs that hijack the brain and manipulate behavior are now the focus of a special newly released edition of The Journal of Experimental Biology. This collection of review articles tips its hat to the ever-growing body of research devoted to the field of neuroparasitology, a field where “science meets science fiction,” according to journal editor Michael Dickinson.

Wain’s psychosis was thought to be caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects humans after exposure to cat feces, and is well known for causing dementia and delirium in people with weak immune systems, like in advanced AIDS. Yet even in relatively healthy individuals, it appears that the parasite can manipulate human behavior.

Silent, or asymptomatic, infections have been linked to increased risk of traffic and workplace accidents as well as mood and neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and even suicide, according to several studies reviewed by Joanne Webster and colleagues of the Imperial College of London.

“Some studies have shown that when you look at people who have a history of some sort of mental illness, a higher percentage of them have a higher exposure to toxoplasmosis. That’s an intriguing thing,” said Dr. Anthony Fiore, director of science for the CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases.

No studies have yet proven that the infection actually causes mental illness and in all likelihood it is a combination of factors that trigger schizophrenia or other illnesses, said Fiore.

But toxoplasma is just one of many microorganisms that have the potential to manipulate the human brain.

The rabies virus, which is largely transmitted through dog bites and is responsible for over 55,000 human deaths around the world each year, is particularly fond of infecting the brain. It has the ability to catapult its victims into a downward psychotic spiral of delirium, hallucinations, and aggression that almost uniformly ends in death.

“A patient in Manila went on a rampage and attacked multiple people, beating people with wood, and causing quite a lot of physical destruction,” said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, a leading rabies expert and director of research of The Global Alliance for Rabies Control.

The rabies virus is just one member of a group of deadly, brain-loving viruses known as Lyssaviruses, named after the Greek goddess of madness, rage, and frenzy. These almost universally lethal viruses are currently only transmitted to humans through animals and, with the exception of rabies, all occur outside of the United States. Yet, without proper control measures, the viruses have the potential to hop from one location to the next and thrive in countries that were not previously infested, explained Rupprecht.

Prior to the development of modern medicine, rampant infections like rabies inspired tales of vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Today, these tales persist in the form of movies like “Contagion,” and in the TV show ‘”The Walking Dead.”

But the journal’s new special edition highlights that brain-invading bugs are anything but fiction.

Though vaccines and medicine have helped to control these infections, there is still much to be done. The collection calls on researchers to adopt new methods for understanding these manipulative parasites, which may ultimately shed light on the basic underpinnings of human and animal behavior.

“These infections are preventable things and if more efforts could be focused on this research, there could be quite an impact,” said Fiore

Horror: Cat poop can control your mind!

Dailybhaskar.com | Dec 08, 2012, 16:52PM IST
 
 

Of all the things that you thought could control you, cat poop literally would never have crossed your mind.

Researchers have found a parasite present in domestic cats, which acts like a mind-control drug and rewires a part of the brain turning the affected person into frightened or horny.

Toxoplasma gondii a parasite found in domestic cats can get inside the human brain, through animal feces. The parasite infects the dendritic white blood cells of the immune system leading them to secrete a chemical neurotransmitter that allows the infected cells, and the parasite, to cross the natural barrier protecting the brain.

The parasite has subtle behavioral influences. Infected individuals are more likely to attempt suicide. Its infection may also increase risk of brain cancer and schizophrenia.

The parasite grows in rodents but to get inside cats it alters the rodent’s mind in a way that it gets attracted towards cat urine. After which the rat becomes cat food and the parasite is passed onto the cat’s body. People can get it from undercooked meat or from cats.

The CDC has estimated that that more than 60 million Americans carry the parasite.

Cat lovers scared?

Photo courtesy: http://dunnadam.blogspot.in

Mind-Control Parasites Hijack Immune System, Too

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

updated 12/10/2012 3:22:01 PM ET

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/50109225/ns/technology_and_science-scie...

A parasite known for its ability to influence the minds of its hosts also hijacks the immune system, a new study finds. In fact, the parasite uses cells that would normally help defeat it as transport to get around the body. 

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny parasite that infects about a quarter of the world's population. Most human infections are asymptomatic, though research has hinted the parasite might have subtle behavioral influences. Infected individuals are more likely to attempt suicide, for example, and T. gondii infection may increase brain cancer risk. 

The parasite's real interests, however, are cats and rodents. T. gondii can live in any warm-blooded creature, but it prefers to end up in the gut of a cat, where it can breed. To do so, the parasite takes control of the minds of its rodent hosts, making the smell of cat urine sexually appealing to them rather than scary. That ups the chances a rodent will cozy up to a cat and get scarfed down, along with the parasite.

 

How T. gondii gets in 

T. gondii spreads into humans through contact with infected animal feces or undercooked meat. Questions remain about how the parasite is so successful at evading the immune system and infecting the body, however. Swedish researchers led by Antonio Barragan of Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge in Sweden wanted to find out. 

Earlier studies had found that an infection by T. gondii makes a certain type of immune cell go haywire. These cells, called dendritic cells, are spiny little free-floaters that move throughout the body's tissues. When a dendritic cell meets a foreign invader, it engulfs and processes it, carrying the pieces to lymph nodes, which then launch a full immune attack. 

When infected by T. gondii, dendritic cells start moving at hyper-speed. Barragan and his colleagues suspected that the parasite might be invading the cells and using them to get around the body like a city bus, but they didn't know how. [ Top 10 Most Disgusting & Diabolical Parasites ]

 

Chemical hijacking

By infecting both human and mice dendritic cells with the parasite, the researchers found the cells suddenly produced increased levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that is important for brain cell function. GABA also makes dendritic cells go, the researchers found — infected cells making more of the chemical began moving in more random directions and did so faster than uninfected dendritic cells. 

"For toxoplasma to make cells in the immune defense secrete GABA was as surprising as it was unexpected, and is very clever of the parasite," Barragan said in a statement.

The researchers then infected live mice with T. gondii and treated some of them with compounds that inhibit the release of GABA. They found that in treated mice, parasite levels were 2.8 times lower than untreated mice four days post-infection. Those findings suggest that T. gondii  is indeed using the immune system as a free ride around the body. 

The findings are published today (Dec. 6) in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens. 

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas  or LiveScience@livescience. We're also on Facebook  &Google+.

Little Mind Benders     

Parasites that sneak into the brain may alter your behavior and health
A+A-Text Size

Parasites that sneak into the brain may alter your behavior and health

    By Susan Milius

    Web edition: January 10, 2013        Print edition: January 26, 2013; Vol.183 #2 (p. 24) 

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T. gondii parasites hunkered down in a brain cyst (shown in a mouse) can keep an infection alive.
Jitender P. Dubey, CDC

Imagining tiny creatures infiltrating human brains is creepy enough. But Marion Vittecoq knows she has been invaded. Her inner companions may be just hanging out — or they may be subtly changing her personality, manipulating her behavior or altering her risk of disease. Yet she doesn’t sound particularly upset.


Not once in the course of a phone conversation and many e-mails did Vittecoq recommend wearing tinfoil hats or mention mind control by the CIA, the United Nations or little green men beaming rays from the moons of Uranus. She studies the ecology of parasites, especially the one-celled Toxoplasma gondii, which coincidentally is the creature that has invaded her brain.


She doesn’t see it as an extra-ordinary intrusion. The parasite has wormed its way into an estimated one-third of people on the planet. In France, where Vittecoq works at both a CNRS national research lab in Montpellier and the Tour du Valat research center in Arles, nearly one-third to about one-half of adults carry hitchhiking T. gondii. CNRS research colleague Frédéric Thomas is also infected, and also doesn’t fret about it.


In the United States, almost one in four residents over the age of 12 has the infection. In other parts of the world, rates are as high as 95 percent. An unlucky minority of these infected people become quite ill. Most, however, don’t even know that their muscles and brains carry the parasite.


What exactly T. gondii is doing while it lurks in so many people is an important question for public health. It’s also an alluringly spooky question. “Where science meets science fiction” is how Michael Dickinson of the University of Washington in Seattle describes studies of parasites that hack into their hosts’ nervous systems. The Journal of Experimental Biology, where Dickinson serves as an editor, dedicated its Jan. 1 issue to this emerging field, dubbed “neuroparasitology.” In those pages and elsewhere, clues to T. gondii’s bizarre biology are emerging. And growing evidence suggests that the hidden parasite may have visible effects.


Studies comparing the infected and the noninfected raise the possibility that the parasite tweaks a person’s personality or ups the risk of suicide attempts, brain cancer and schizophrenia. Studies in people even report links between T. gondii and traffic accidents, greater odds of having sons than daughters, extra height and unusual opinions about the smell of urine.


If so much of what people do turns out to have a touch of parasite about it, then the notion of normal human behavior may have to change. What is “routine” for people might need to encompass not just the activities of a Homo sapiens by itself, but also the doings of Homo sapiens as a walking ecosystem where microbes and mammal intermingle.


Meet the parasite


Ending up in this walking ecosystem is a bit of bad luck for T. gondii.

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Before retreating into cysts, the parasites exist in a banana-shaped form (shown).
DPDx, Laboratory Identification of Parasites of Public Health Concern/CDC

The organism is a cat parasite and can have sex only within cells in the gut of some kind of feline. Matings there produce offspring protected in toughened structures called oocysts, which the cat excretes into soil and water, and which ready themselves within a few days to start a new generation. Oocysts, like space capsules, protect the cells tucked within for months. To flourish, though, parasites need the temperature-controlled, safe, nutrient-rich paradise of a live warm-blooded vertebrate.


If a cat swallows one of the infectious T. gondii oocysts, hurray for the parasite. The sexual phase can repeat. But if, say, a person takes in an oocyst, from contaminated food or from a flawed litter box–cleaning technique, T. gondii can still cope. It changes into a form that repeatedly clones itself, known as a tachy-zoite. “It’s a lovely banana-shaped organism, and it glides,” says parasitologist Christopher Hunter of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.


Tachyzoites and other invading T. gondii can bring a human several weeks of low-grade, achy, flulike discomfort, as well as eye infections that can scar the retina. New infections in mothers-to-be can raise the risk of miscarriages as well as of developmental damage to the baby. People with suppressed immune systems are especially vulnerable and can die from untreated infections.


A healthy human immune system doesn’t necessarily eliminate the banana-clone army but typically drives it to retreat. Under full attack, the parasite wraps itself in tiny bomb-shelter cysts, mostly in the muscle and brain tissues of its host. (Not many parasites can safecrack their way into the well-protected brain, but once there, they enjoy a respite from the full strength of the host immune system.)


Inside these cysts, T. gondii keep the cloning, and thus the infection, going in slow motion for years, ready to jump to any new host if given a chance. These cysts are the T. gondii form accused of mind control and other mind-jacking stunts in affected humans.


People are far from the only noncats where T. gondii can make do. The parasite can infect grizzly bears, bison, chinchillas, elephants, domestic goats and sheep, koalas, New World monkeys, barred owls, pigeons, pronghorn, sea lions, wombats and many more species. Such a vast range of immune systems to evade shows the virtuosity of the parasites. “How do they do that?” Hunter marvels.


Part of the answer, he says, is a Swiss army knife approach to breaking through vertebrate immune defenses. T. gondii has accumulated plenty of molecular tools, such as proteins to inject into host cells, Hunter noted in November in Nature Reviews Microbiology. Regardless of what bird or mammal swallows a parasite, T. gondii probably has something in its repertoire that will help it make a new home. “If I eat a pig, I get infected,” Hunter says. “If the pig eats me, the pig gets infected.”


Masters of lurking


Whether Toxoplasma cysts manipulate pigs or parasitologists is still an open question. But research on the possibility was inspired in part by the very odd things that lurking cysts do to rats.

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PEE APPEAL
Early research found that T. gondii–infected rats spent more time around cat urine (but not other urine) than noninfected rats. Ongoing work suggests that the parasite makes the typically fear-inducing scent appealing.
M. Berdoy, J.P. Webster, D.W. Macdonald/Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 2000

Biologists first discovered T. gondii in the early 1900s, but for decades researchers largely dismissed the parasite’s stealthy cysts as inactive, irrelevant grit in the brain. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that several lines of research took off exploring how slow-going infections might be very relevant. Joanne P. Webster, now at Imperial College London, and her colleagues have since built a case that rats with a brainful of supposedly harmless cysts behave almost as if trying to become cat food.


A pounce and gulp from a cat is about the best thing that can happen to a parasite, but cat horror runs deep in rats. Even lab rats whose ancestors have not encountered cats for hundreds of generations normally avoid a catty scent.


When infected with T. gondii, however, rats became more active, a risk factor in itself for encountering a predator. They largely lost their reluctance to venture into test areas reeking of cat urine, and some of the infected rats actually spent more time in these urine-perfumed areas than in untainted refuges, Webster and colleagues reported in 2000. The parasite may possess an evolutionary trick that turns fear into a fatal attraction.


This upside-down behavior doesn’t come from a general interest in excretions. Urine from rabbits, as useless a species for parasite sex as rats themselves, doesn’t hold noticeable allure. Nor does urine from mink and dogs, other rat predators of limited benefit to the parasite.


What’s more, rat brains don’t malfunction in these ways when infected with just any brain parasite. Rats dosed with Leptospira, which doesn’t need cat innards for sex, aren’t driven to reckless activity by a whiff of cat.


Toxoplasma cysts do something fairly specific, says Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University. Rats infected with T. gondii still learn to avoid scary things, such as lab-generated electric shocks to the feet, he and his colleagues have found. And in 2011 in PLOS ONE, the team reported that, at the scent of a cat, the activity in the cyst-riddled brain of a male rat partially shifts from a nerve pathway that typically responds to scary scents to a chain of nerves that often sizzles at the scent of a female. The parasites seem to be rewiring “oh no!” into “oh, honey!”


Sapolsky wonders, too, about infected females, who also show interest in cat odors. “My bet,” he says, “is that Toxo knows how to make cat odors smell like babies to females.”


Neurochemical work is yielding clues to how a one-celled parasite creates such subtle effects. In parasite-manipulation studies, Webster discovered that infected rodents were less likely to get stupid about cats if dosed with a drug called haloperidol. The drug blocks a portion of brain cells’ molecular docking stations for the chemical messenger dopamine. T. gondii, Webster hypothesized, may be brainwashing rats with excess dopamine.


Unexpected evidence for this hypothesis turned up in 2009, as researchers reveled in the recently described genome of T. gondii. Though not thinking about brain messenger chemicals at the time (Toxo doesn’t have a brain), molecular parasitologist Glenn McConkey of the University of Leeds in England and his colleagues discovered genetic instructions for the manufacture of an enzyme that animals use to make dopamine.

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TOXIC CYCLE
Cats are special hosts for T. gondii because only felines facilitate parasite sex. Infected cats excrete parasites as oocysts, which can infect just about any warm-blooded vertebrate. When they make their way into cat prey, the parasites may quickly return to a cat. In a less favorable scenario for T. gondii and human health, the parasites can end up in a person, who acquires the infection via contaminated meat, unclean produce or poor litter box technique.
Source: CDC; Image by E. Feliciano; Sheep and pig: Pinare/Shutterstock

Before the discovery, no one had imagined that a single-celled creature might have such a genetic tool. But the gene fits the scenario of T. gondii changing the brain’s usual supply of transmitter compounds.


McConkey, Webster and colleagues reported more evidence for the hypothesis in 2011. Brain tissue in infected rodents abounds in dopamine, as do parasite cysts growing in lab dishes full of rodent nerve cells.


Brain changer


If T. gondii cysts can manipulate rats so deftly, biologists wonder what the parasites might do inside a human brain.


Longtime T. gondii researcher Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague has gone so far as to test whether cysts can make people more favorably inclined toward the odor of domestic cat urine. For men: yes, a bit, he and his colleagues reported in 2011. For infected women, the researchers discerned the opposite effect: a greater distaste. (In the tests, Flegr diluted the urine so none of the student volunteers could guess what they were sniffing.)


It would be a stretch to suggest that evolution might have favored parasite adaptations that do no more than make infected people like cat urine. Such a shift probably would not help the parasite find a preferred host, as it would not greatly increase the chances of cats dining on people. More likely, any voodoo that T. gondii exercises in the human brain is a side effect of capacities that benefit the parasite in other hosts.


Arguably, the eeriest of such effects in humans, if it proves real, is personality change caused by cysts that settle in for life and then seep chemicals like dopamine into the brain. Flegr, who has been administering personality tests to infected people for almost two decades, first became curious about the possibility when he discovered that T. gondii lurks in him. He devised his first questionnaire on parasite-induced trends by reflecting on what puzzled him about his own personality.


To keep people from gaming his Toxoplasma questions, Flegr melded them with a personality test widely used at the time. The questions he made up didn’t produce any interesting results, but the supposed distracter questions did. Since those first surveys, he has turned to a commonly used questionnaire that evaluates five broad traits. The new tests, he says, suggest that infected people tend to be more extroverted but less conscientious than people without the lurkers.


“It’s a small effect,” Flegr says. T. gondii infection explains only a tiny portion of the personality differences he has measured among people.


A much stronger and more worrying connection concerns a person’s risk for traffic accidents. Infected people have more than double the accident risk of noninfected people, he says. Parasite infection appears to slow reaction time.


Over the years, Flegr has also tested for links between T. gondii and lack of diplomacy, attitudes toward hypnosis, reduced fear of snakes and big spiders, and inclination to (metaphorically) stir up hornets’ nests. In all his testing, he attends to any small leanings he may find. Like any evolutionary biologist, Flegr knows that slight differences can eventually have noticeable effects.


Sapolsky notes that so far Flegr and his collaborators have pushed forward this type of personality research largely on their own. “Flegr’s findings are fascinating, immensely provocative,” Sapolsky says. “In general, the effects seem quite subtle, which means it is particularly important for them to be replicated.”


Recently, Teodor Postolache of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and his colleagues have been following up with a version of the work. Postolache won’t be ready to discuss his results until at least the spring, he says. But he will say that his investigations add an important step: screening out potential study volunteers with mental troubles such as depression or personality disorders.


Parasite perils


Postolache and others suspect T. gondii parasites may cause changes more serious than subtle personality shifts, possibly undermining health in sneaky, long-term ways. Infected women have a higher risk of self-directed violence, including attempted and completed suicide, than do women without the parasite, Postolache’s team reported in November in JAMA Psychiatry. Postolache’s earlier studies had suggested a boosted risk with infection, but this new analysis of nearly 46,000 women in Denmark had the unusual strength of establishing which women were infected before the violence occurred. When Postolache isolated the records for women with no previous history of mental health problems, the link got even stronger. He is careful to offer a reminder, though, that finding a link is not the same as identifying a cause.


Schizophrenia risks may also increase with infection, says Robert Yolken of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. He suspects that multiple pathogens can push a beleaguered brain toward the disorder. Like the virus herpes simplex type 1, brain invader T. gondii fits the profile of a potential contributor.


T. gondii spends years among brain cells. And Yolken says, “it’s not totally latent — it’s doing things.” The cysts may boost dopamine in unnatural ways; the haloperidol used in Webster’s rat experiment, after all, is prescribed in people for schizophrenia. Or, Yolken says, inflammation caused by cysts in the brain could disrupt behavior.


Whatever the mechanism, the link between parasite infection and schizophrenia looks moderately strong based on 38 studies, Yolken and his colleagues concluded last May in Schizophrenia Bulletin.


One of the earliest studies reviewed by Yolken, as well as E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., and another colleague, dates from 1956. That era’s swell of interest in pathogens and mental illness later waned as researchers looked instead to human genetics for the main cause of schizophrenia. But now that recent studies have turned up only weak links between particular genes and schizophrenia, Yolken says interest in nongenetic risks is rising again. Human genes do matter, he says, but there must be other menaces at work.


T. gondii infection is also in the parade of menaces linked to brain cancer — though feline companionship, not the infection itself, receives most of the attention.


Rates of T. gondii infection tracked with higher overall rates of brain cancer across 37 countries, Thomas and colleagues reported last February in Biology Letters. Looking just within France, a similar pattern shows up, Vittecoq, Thomas and their team reported the next month in Infection, Genetics and Evolution. Both papers were intended to encourage a deeper look at the question of parasites and disease, the researchers say.


Neither paper blamed cats. But together, the publications raised concern among cat owners. Though infectious oocysts can’t push through unbroken human skin, parasitologists advise people to wear gloves and wash their hands thoroughly when cleaning litter boxes.


The wave of fur-related anxiety prompted Cancer Research UK’s blog to emphasize that there is no evidence that the presence of cats causes brain cancer. An August 2012 comment in Biology Letters looked at data from 626,454 women in the United Kingdom, average age 64, to see whether cat ownership — Toxo infection aside — matched brain cancer risk.


It didn’t, Vicky Benson and her colleagues at the University of Oxford concluded. Eighteen percent of the women in the study owned at least one cat, but there was no sign that the cats by themselves brought an extra risk for brain cancer.


The study apparently touched a nerve; headlines rejoiced: “Cats not linked to brain cancer after all” and “Good News: Cats aren’t really polluting your brain with poop parasites.” What didn’t get as much attention was a clarification from Vittecoq and her colleagues. In a response, they cited studies from some populations showing that cat ownership isn’t even a reliable predictor of T. gondii infection. Eating undercooked meat presents a bigger threat. The point of the original studies, Vittecoq emphasizes, is that, regardless of how someone gets a parasite, the infection itself might be linked to brain cancer. Now researchers need to take a more detailed look at the possible associations.


Even though her own paper helped raise the specter of brain cancer, Vittecoq seems to be at peace with her parasite. Trying to separate a human from all its microbes is not possible, she says.


Researchers have calculated that the microbial cells in a human body outnumber the Homo sapiens cells 10 to 1. “We have to learn to live with parasites in a healthy way,” Vittecoq says. As for the sci-fi possibility that the parasite is changing her personality, she accepts the idea but doesn’t find it worth worrying about. “One influence among many,” she says.


What is worth worrying about doesn’t get the press it should, grumbles Hunter, the parasitologist who studies T. gondii’s powers for evading immune systems. Alien mind control and crazy cat ladies make it into far more headlines than plain old public health concerns. Pregnant women get warned away from unwashed lettuce and messy litter boxes not because of the potential for personality changes but because an infected mom occasionally passes the infection to the fetus, with uncommon but possibly devastating consequences.


Even less widely discussed, T. gondii ranks fourth among causes of hospitalization from foodborne illness and second among causes of food poisoning deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Forget about mind control. The big message may be take care when cooking and when cleaning up after cats, Hunter says. “The best microbiological health tip ever: Wash your hands.”

27/03/2013 17:30 | By Stephanie Wood, Senior Editor, MSN Her

Zombie nation: the outside forces controlling human brains

Recent research shows how pesky parasites may be affecting the behaviour of up to a reported 40% of the population.

You are a free spirit, in control of your own thoughts and actions, right? Well, possibly not.

Recent studies into neuroparasitology – that's the study of brain parasites, to you and I – have shown how pesky parasites can influence thoughts, feelings and behaviour, with The Daily Telegraph reporting that up to 40% of the population may be affected by this "zombie reprogramming."

Scientists point to the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which may affect up to 350,000 Brits a year. The parasite can only reproduce within the intestines of cats and so, when dwelling inside a human, it affects its host’s behaviour in order to increase its chances of being eaten.

Studies into the effect of Toxo (as science-types call the parasite) on the brains of rats - which are similar to those of humans - show that it does this by targeting the areas of the brain that control fear and pleasure. Triggers that usually cause the mind to become fearful are reduced and instead prompt pleasure. This has led scientists to link the parasite with stats such as a higher percentage of car crashes amongst people infected with Toxo, suggesting it reduced the host’s fear responses.

A more familiar parasite that may affect human behaviour is the influenza virus. Professors at Binghamton University in the US studied people given a shot of the virus as a preventative measure. They found that subjects increased their social interactions following the jab, rising from an average of 54 interactions a day to 101 – behaviour which gave the virus increased opportunity to thrive and spread.

Whilst further research is needed on the subject, it seems that some of our actions may be affected by forces outside of our control. So next time you’re late for work, just blame it on your brain parasites.

12 Real Parasites That Control the Lives of Their Hosts

http://io9.com/12-real-parasites-that-control-the-lives-of-their-ho...

Joseph Bennington 3/28/13

Many parasites are satisfied with just living off of their hosts, while others decide their hosts must die. But there are also some parasites who can change their hosts' behavior or physiology in ways fit only for science fiction. Here are 12 parasites who manipulate their hosts in incredible ways.

Top image by Dick Belgers via Wikimedia Commons

1. Hymenoepimecis "Build Me a Web!" argyraphaga

Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a Costa Rican parasitic wasp that terrorizes the spider Plesiometa argyra. When it's time to procreate, an adult female wasp will seek out a spider, paralyze it and then lay an egg on its abdomen. After hatching, the larva wasp will feed on its host, while the spider goes about its business like nothing's wrong.

Then things get interesting. After a couple weeks of bloodsucking, the larva will inject a chemical into the spider, which causes the spider to build a web like none it's ever built before. The spider sits motionless in its creation — which is far from pretty, but super durable and able to withstand pelts of rain — to await its fate. The parasite then kills the spider with poison, sucks it dry and builds a cocoon that hangs from the middle of the new web.

Image via William G. Eberhard.

2. Toxoplasma "Do That Cat!" gondii

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If Tom & Jerry taught us anything, it's that cats and rodents typically don't get along. In fact, rats inherently know the smell of cat urine and run from it like their lives depend on it (because, well, it does). But if a rat is infected by the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii, it loses its instinctual fear of cat pee. Worse yet, the parasite appears to make the rat think it's sexually attracted to the revolting odor. T. gondii does all of this to increase the chances of its host getting eaten by a cat, so that it can happily complete its lifecycle in its new feline friend.

Image by Jitinder P. Dubey via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Dicrocoelium "Climb That Grass, but Only at Night!" dendriticum

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The Lancet liver fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum has a very busy life. As an adult it spends its time in the liver of a cow or another grazing mammal. Here it mates and lays eggs, which are excreted in the host's feces.

A snail eats the poo, taking in the eggs at the same time. The eggs hatch in the snail and make their way into its digestive gland, where they asexually reproduce. They then travel to the surface of the snail's body. As a defensive maneuver, the snail walls the parasites up in cysts and coughs up the balls of slime...doing exactly what the parasites wanted it to do.

An ant comes along and gobbles up the fluke-laded slime balls. The flukes then spread out inside of the ant, with a couple of them setting up shop in the insect's head. When night approaches, the flukes take control. They make the ant climb up a blade of grass and hold tight, waiting to be eaten by a grazing animal. If the ant is still alive at dawn, the flukes release their control and the ant goes about its day like normal (if the ant baked in the sun, the parasite would die, too). At night the flukes take over again and the cycle repeats until the ant becomes cattle food.

Image by Adam Cuerden via Wikimedia Commons.

4. Myrmeconema "Go Red Berry Bum!" neotropicum

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When the nematode Myrmeconema neotropicum gets into Cephalotes atratus ants, it does something rather unique: It makes the ant look like a berry. You see, these South American ants are black, but they live up in the tropical forest canopy, where there are a lot of red berries. So the nematode takes advantage of this fact by making the ant's gaster (its bum, basically) look exactly like a red berry. Infected ants also tend to be sluggish and walk around with their bums in the air, making them all the more appealing to fruit-eating birds.

Image by Steve Yanoviak via Wikimedia Commons.

5. Spinochordodes "Jump to Your Death!" tellinii

SExpandSpinochordodes tellinii is a nematomorph hairworm that infects grasshoppers and crickets. As adults, the parasitic worms live in water and form writhing masses to breed. Grasshoppers and crickets ingest the worms' microscopic larvae when they drink the infested water.

The hairworm larvae then develop inside of the insect host. Once grown, they release powerful mind-controlling chemicals that sabotage the insect's central nervous system. The evil hairworms force the insect to jump into the nearest body of water, where it subsequently drown. Yes, the hairworms actually cause their hosts to commit suicide. The parasites then escape their deceased host and the cycle begin anew.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

6. Glyptapanteles "Protect Me!" sp.

SExpandGlyptapanteles is a genus of parasitic wasp that often infects Thyrinteina leucocerae caterpillars. The cycle begins when an adult wasp lays its eggs inside of a helpless baby caterpillar. The eggs hatch and develop inside of the caterpillar, as the caterpillar itself grows up. When the larvae are full-grown, they emerge from the caterpillar and pupate nearby. But it seems the larvae somehow induced a kind of Stockholm syndrome in their former host. The caterpillar host stops feeding, but remains close to its parasites and will even cover them with silk. If a potential predator comes by, the caterpillar will defend the pupating wasps with violent head-swings.

Image by José Lino-Neto via Wikimedia Commons.

7. Leucochloridium "Pulse!" paradoxum

SExpandLeucochloridium paradoxum is a parasitic flatworm commonly known as the green-banded broodsac (you'll see why it has this cringe-inducing name in just a moment). L. paradoxum spends most of its life in the body of a bird, which doesn't seem to mind the parasite's presence all that much. The flatworm breeds inside of the bird and its eggs get passed through the feathered host's digestive tract.

The bird poops out the eggs and — you guessed it! — a snail comes along and eats it. In its larval stage, the parasite travels to the digestive system of the snail, where it develops into the next stage, the sporocyst. They rapidly reproduce and form long tubes of swollen "broodsacs." As the broodsacs grow, they spread out into the snail's eyestalks, preferring the left tentacle for some insane reason. Here, the broodsacs pulse green and yellow, causing the snail's eyestalks to resemble caterpillars, which birds love.

But the parasite's manipulation doesn't stop there. Snails prefer the dark, so the broodsacs override this behavior and cause the snail to seek out light. Once in the light, the broodsacs twitch, becoming absolutely irresistible to birds.

Image by Thomas Hahmann via Wikimedia Commons.

8. Ophiocordyceps "Zombify!" unilateralis

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Some species of carpenter ants prefer to build nests high up in the canopy of trees and only come to the forest floor to forage. But that plan gets shot to hell when the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis gets involved. If the fungus infects an ant, the insect becomes compelled to leave its treetop home. It climbs down to one of the lower leaves and clamps down with its mandibles until it dies. The fungus consumes the ant's tissues — all except for the muscles controlling the mandibles — and grows inside of it. After a couple of weeks, the fungal spores fall to the ground to infect more ants. Ants infected by this particular fungus are often called "zombie ants."

Image by David P. Hughes & Maj-Britt Pontoppidan via Wikimedia Commons.

9. Sacculina "Serve Me!" carcini

SExpandSacculina carcini barnacles start life as tiny free-swimming larva, but once they find their crab host, they become so much more. The female larva is the first to colonize its crustacean host — she attaches herself to the underside of a crab, forming a bulge in its shell. She then spreads root-like tendrils throughout her host, which she uses to draw nutrients.

As she grows, the bulge in the crab's shell turns into a knot. A male Sacculina then comes along and implants himself inside of his mate, where he produces sperm. The pair then continuously reproduces. At this time, the helpless, now-castrated crab essentially becomes the barnacle's servant. It stops molting and growing, and actually begins to take care of the barnacle's eggs as if it were its own. And this doesn't just happen with female crabs.

When the barnacle infects a male crab, it sterilizes the crustacean and alters its body to resemble that of a female crab by widening and flattening the abdomen. It then forces the crab's body to release certain hormones — the male crab begins to act like a female crab, even to the point of performing female mating dances. It also takes care of the barnacle's eggs.

Image by Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons.

10. Schistocephalus "Turn Up the Heat!" solidus

The bird tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus is not one to stick around in a single host for too long. As an adult, it reproduces inside of the intestines of fish-eating water birds. The tapeworm's eggs get delivered to water in a nice package of bird feces. Once in water, the eggs hatch into their larval stage and get eaten by small crustaceans called copepods. Sticklebacks then eat the copepods.

When inside a stickleback, the tapeworm shows its true power. It makes the fish seek out warmer waters, which it needs to grow rapidly. And grow it does. The tapeworm can actually get so big that it outweighs its host.

When it's time to make its way into a bird's gullet, the tapeworm causes the fish to pull a Jeckyll-Hyde transformation: the stickleback becomes bolder and more solitary, which essentially makes it a more appealing prey for a fish-eating bird.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

11. Euhaplorchis "Dance for Me!" californiensis

SExpand

Like several other parasites on this list, the parasitic worm Euhaplorchis californiensis has several hosts. The worm's life begins in the horn snails found in the salt-water marshes of Southern California. Inside of their sterilized hosts, the worms produce several generations of offspring, which then leave the aquatic snail in search of killifish.

Once the parasite finds its new host, it latches onto the gills of the killifish, and then makes it way to the fish's brain cavity, where it forms a carpet-like layer over the fish's brain. Here it releases chemicals that mess with the fish's central nervous system. Infected killifish perform a complex dance routine involving the shimmy, the jerk, the flash and the surface. With these cool moves, the fish are 10 to 30 times more likely to get eaten by birds than uninfected fish. Inside of the birds, the fish breed and their eggs are pooped out, to be eaten by unsuspecting horn snails.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

12. Heterorhabditis "Back Off!" bacteriophora

SExpandHeterorhabditis bacteriophora is a nematode that has set out to break the mold. Most parasites, it would seem, manipulate their hosts in ways that make them get eaten; this allows the parasite to complete its life cycle. H. bacteriophora, on the other hand, tells hungry predators to back off.

When the nematode infects an insect larva, it gradually changes the color of its host's body from white to red. This vivid color is a warning color to predators — in fact, robins avoided eating the red larva in experimental studies. The parasite needs the larva, which it liquefies and feeds on, and would actually die if its host got eaten.

Image by Peggy Greb.

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SAM_6398

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LuK commented on LuK's blog post DIARIO DE SUS ATAQUES
"15/08/17 10,18Hrs. Hoy es mi cumpleaños, y atacaran intensamente. He ido al baño al levantarme y el psicopata del 2B se ha puesto justo debajo haciendo ruidos, ha tirado de la cadena (esto simpre lo hace, es una medida de acosarme…"
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Larry Lee Whitsitt commented on Larry Lee Whitsitt's photo
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"Sam 6377, 6376, 6375,  are all forehead blackened by an electro-neuro beam.  I think it is true color of the beam, and does not come close to a shadow appearance."
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Angeline Klas posted a blog post

Recorded Thoughts

Is recording my thoughts and spreading it around covert or overt.I mean, people still have the nerve to play it out loud infront of me.Today it happend to me in the office where I work. The neighbour die the same to me.Can I report this to the police is this overt. The voice of the male Perp is on her sound system. The perps keep on telling everybody I meet about my thoughts about them. These people want to retaliate. The dare devils feel like they can play this without feeling ashamed or…See More
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CLS replied to William May's discussion I'm about to die guys
"Hello Brian, I also have lump on the side of the back of my neck on the left side? Do you too? I got it checked out and it is not an lymph node."
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brian bovo replied to William May's discussion I'm about to die guys
"You can overcome all of this. Its mind over sound and matter. I war all the time with these scum. I always get silence and rest in the end. Your rigged in the back of neck and brain. They quantum shift you and create points on appliances and walls.…"
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