Tobias has a creepy-fun blog post up today about Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes rats to become attracted to cats, which can adversely affect the development of a baby within a pregnant women's body. The post digs into Stanford scientist Dr. Robert Sopalsky's research around how "toxo" changes human behavior, but this snippet about how it "hijacks the sexual reward pathway" in rats' minds is pure gold.
Once in the rat, Toxo's goal is to then be eaten by a cat so it can be fruitful and multiply, but as I mentioned, this can only take place in the cat's gut. Toxo's goal is to get the rat eaten by a cat. Toxo could get the desired effect through a whole sort of seemingly obvious ways; e.g., Make the rat hard to run so it is easier for a cat to catch it. Instead it takes a far more interesting approach:
Toxo generates cysts in the brain of the rat. These cysts take over the fear center of the brain, but specifically the fear of predators. Common fear sources for rodents (e.g., bright lights, open spaces, etc.) still operate perfectly well in an infected rat, but now they are no longer afraid of cat piss. That alone would be cool enough, but Toxo takes it one step further. When Toxo is going about futzing with the fear center of the brain it also goes into the sexual excitement part of the brain. It hijacks the incoming Fear of Cat Piss™ and instead diverts the signal to the Barry White™ center of the brain.
"Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing." - Dr. Sapolsky
The rat is now sexually attracted to cat piss! (This is a fetish that gets you eaten by your predator and rats clearly do not have any safe words with cats.)
Now, this part blew my non-rat mind: Sapolsky says motorcyclists have a high probability of being infected with Toxo. Read the post to unpack that part.
Guided by Parasites: Toxoplasma Modified Humans
More about Sapolsky's research on Edge.org.
Researchers at UC Riverside and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada have published a paper describing their ongoing success in setting a “transparent nanocrystalline yttria-stabilized-zirconia” into patients’ skulls, which reveal the patients’ brains so that the patients’ brains can be zapped with therapeutic lasers.
One million miles from Earth, hanging in space between Earth’s gravitational pull and the sun’s, is the DSCOVR satellite and NASA’s incredible EPIC camera. Every two hours, EPIC takes a photo of Earth “to monitor ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth.” The above video […]
In Botswana, conservation scientists from the University of New South Wales are painting eyes on the rear ends of cattle in an effort to deter lions from eating them. As the lions’ protected habitats shrink, they move closer to human settlements. In Botswana, the lions attack the livestock that the subsistence farmers count on. That […]
Much of what goes into creating an amazing photo happens in the digital darkroom. Here’s your chance to master all things photo editing: the Ultimate Adobe Photo Editing Bundle, now available in the Boing Boing Store for just $29.99.Across 8 courses and over 41 hours of intensive instruction, you’ll learn the fundamentals of Adobe’s suite of photo […]
3D printers are hot, but they’re also pricey. While the prospect of cranking out everything we can dream up is enticing, cost is often one factor that keeps us from jumping onto the 3D printing train.Now, thanks to M3D, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can now get its flagship 3D printer–plus four reels of filaments–for just […]
It’s no secret that technology is changing the way we all work—but it’s also transforming the way we play. The games of today look nothing like those of 10 or even 20 years ago: these days it’s all about mobile and 3D. And now you can learn to design 3D mobile games with the Intro to Unity 3D Game […]