A great example of the interconnectedness of life forms on this planet and what happens when natural barriers are breached.

Cat Parasite Spreads to Arctic Beluga Whales - Potential Public Health Issue

Prof Michael Grigg at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver said tests on hundreds of beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea, on the edge of the Arctic, revealed that 14% of the creatures harboured the Toxoplasma gondii infection. The tests are the first to show the infection has reached the region.

The most likely cause of the outbreak was infected cat faeces washing into waterways and on to the sea, where fish and other marine organisms became contaminated and ultimately eaten by the whales.

The rise in pet cats among the Inuit and a warming climate which helps the pathogen survive until it finds a host could be to blame for the emergence of the infection, Grigg told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

“Ice is a major eco-barrier for pathogens. What we are seeing with the big thaw is the liberation of pathogens gaining access to vulnerable new hosts and wreaking havoc,” he added.

A Beluga whale swimming under ice at the Arctic Circle dive center in the White Sea, northern Russia. Photograph: Franco Banfi/Barcroft Media

Toxoplasma infection permanently shifts balance in cat-and-mouse game

The toxoplasma parasite can be deadly, causing spontaneous abortion in pregnant women or killing immune-compromised patients, but it has even stranger effects in mice.

Infected mice lose their fear of cats, which is good for both cats and the parasite, because the cat gets an easy meal and the parasite gets into the cat’s intestinal tract, the only place it can sexually reproduce and continue its cycle of infection.

New research by graduate student Wendy Ingram at the University of California, Berkeley, reveals a scary twist to this scenario: the parasite’s effect seem to be permanent. The fearless behavior in mice persists long after the mouse recovers from the flu-like symptoms of toxoplasmosis, and for months after the parasitic infection is cleared from the body, according to research published today (Sept. 18) in the journal PLoS ONE.

“Even when the parasite is cleared and it’s no longer in the brains of the animals, some kind of permanent long-term behavior change has occurred, even though we don’t know what the actual mechanism is,” Ingram said. She speculated that the parasite could damage the smell center of the brain so that the odor of cat urine can’t be detected. The parasite could also directly alter neurons involved in memory and learning, or it could trigger a damaging host response, as in many human autoimmune diseases.

Ingram became interested in the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, after reading about its behavior-altering effects in mice and rats and possible implications for its common host, the domesticated cat, and even humans. One-third of people around the world have been infected with toxoplasma and probably have dormant cysts in their brains. Kept in check by the body’s immune system, these cysts sometimes revive in immune-compromised people, leading to death, and some preliminary studies suggest that chronic infection may be linked to schizophrenia or suicidal behavior.

Pregnant women are already warned to steer clear of kitty litter, since the parasite is passed through cat feces and can cause blindness or death in the fetus. One main source of spread is undercooked pork, Ingram said.

With the help of Michael Eisen and Ellen Robey, UC Berkeley professors of molecular and cell biology, Ingram set out three years ago to discover how toxoplasma affects mice’s hard-wired fear of cats. She tested mice by seeing whether they avoided bobcat urine, which is normal behavior, versus rabbit urine, to which mice don’t react. While earlier studies showed that mice lose their fear of bobcat urine for a few weeks after infection, Ingram showed that the three most common strains of Toxoplasma gondii make mice less fearful of cats for at least four months.

Using a genetically altered strain of toxoplasma that is not able to form cysts and thus is unable to cause chronic infections in the brain, she demonstrated that the effect persisted for four months even after the mice completely cleared the microbe from their bodies. She is now looking at how the mouse immune system attacks the parasite to see whether the host’s response to the infection is the culprit.

“This would seem to refute – or at least make less likely – models in which the behavior effects are the result of direct physical action of parasites on specific parts of the brain,” Eisen wrote in a blog post about the research.

“The idea that this parasite knows more about our brains than we do, and has the ability to exert desired change in complicated rodent behavior, is absolutely fascinating,” Ingram said. “Toxoplasma has done a phenomenal job of figuring out mammalian brains in order to enhance its transmission through a complicated life cycle.”
How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy - The Atlantic

A tiny parasite called Toxoplasma gondii might be driving people crazy. That’s what Jaroslav Flegr believes, anyway. For years he has pursued the odd, yet increasingly realistic theory that this brain-dwelling parasite could be infecting humans via household cats and affecting the way they behave. Toxo literally changes the way you produce dopamine, a key neurotransmitter.

It’s not “crazy cat lady” syndrome, per se, but if Toxo can drive rats so nuts that they walk right into the jaws of a cat, could it influence things like extroversion and schizophrenia in humans?

There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite. Nobody likes to feel like a puppet.

Read more about his work and how Toxo affects the brain at The Atlantic.

Bonus feature: A Radiolab segment about Toxo from 2009.


Is ‘crazy cat lady syndrome’ real?

Can cats really turn women into crazy cat ladies? Some scientists think it’s possible.
Your Cat Won't Make You Crazy: Toxoplasma Gondii
I've followed the stories about how toxoplasma gondii, a little microbe that lives inside cats, has been shown to maybe make you lose your mind a little.

We mentioned these microbes in our episode about the crazy cat lady stereotype. Always glad to get an update, especially when that update makes it clear our weirdness isn’t the fault of our cats’ bacteria buddies.


Ever feel like your kitty takes charge of your brain?

TOXOPLASMA, a new painting by Martin Hsu

Inspired by Radiolab’s episode on Toxoplasma Gondii, a potentially mind controlling parasite gifted from your cat to you. Listen here

Toxoplasma original painting created for the ZOMBIE show at Last Rites Gallery in New York.

Enjoy the kitties,

Ummmmmm …

Cats in the United States release about 2.6 billion pounds (1.2 million metric tons) of feces into the environment every year. Cat dung carries the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled organism that creates infectious agents called oocysts. These oocysts can infect pregnant women, causing congenital problems in the baby such as deafness, seizures, eye damage and mental retardation. The parasite also infects people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS.

After reviewing past studies on the parasite, a team of researchers believes the Toxoplasma parasite may be a significant public health problem, infecting people who are otherwise healthy. Other studies have even linked the parasite to schizophrenia, depression, suicidal behavior and lower school achievement in children.

… mmmmmmmmmmm

nbnepeta asked:

I figured all my emotional bullshit would make you unfollow me, But you're still there..

having emotions is a normal human thing and i think tumblr is a great way to vent and express yourself in a safe environment :). don’t give up it gets better :D


For some reason, toxoplasmosis has been coming up in both Psych classes I’m taking. So I’m going to unravel the secrets behind it a little bit, because it is quite interesting. 

First of all, we start with a little paraside called Toxoplasma gondii. 

This lil dude loves the host body of kitty cats. Toxoplasma gondii will live in the cat and continue living on in the cat poop. Thus if a pregnant woman is carelessly cleaning out her cat’s litter box, she runs the risk of contracting the parasite. It will cause an infection and devastate her unborn child’s immune system (enlarged liver/spleen, eye damage, hearing loss, jaundice, low birth weight, central nervous system deficiencies).

Here’s the crazier part about Toxoplasma gondii.

If a rat contracts the parasite, it Toxoplasma gondii will commandeer the rat’s nervous system. The rat will suddenly be enamored by cats - it will CHASE cats and walk right into the jaws of the predator. The rat is DEAD MEAT. This is an evolutionary FAIL. But for the parasite, this is an amazing evolutionary advantage! Once the cat eats the infected rat, Toxoplasma gondii increases its chances of reproducing with other members of its species potentially living in the cat.

These drastic behavioral changes prompt questions of consciousness related to control of things that are seemingly habitual or instinctual. 

Tehehehe. I have my parasites exam today and I’m going over extra reading for Toxoplasmosis. Some findings suggest that Toxoplasma gondii infection increases jealousy and antisocial behaviour in men but increases morality, promiscuity and a ‘higher level of intelligence’ in women. In contrast, there is a higher prevalence of T. gondii infection among schizophrenics and people with depression and bipolar disorders. Scientists don’t know anything. It is also known to increase male births but the reasons for this are unknown.

So ja. I’ve fully covered 2 topics out of 7 and briefly covered 2 others. Malaria and Toxoplasma have appeared every year the past 4 years. If they don’t appear this year, I’m screwwwed :D And now I’ve started to get a cold, a sore throat and my wisdom tooth infection is coming back. Great timing since I need to pull a full alnighter tonight.

Vicious Circles

A third of the world’s population has the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) living inside them. Infestation by these simple organisms (usually from eating infected meat) can cause serious problems during pregnancy. Here T. gondii has been genetically-modified to glow in a dish, allowing us to see how they might travel around inside our bodies. Their swirling traces were captured by microscope, similar to how a night-time video captures the trail of light from the tip of a sparkler. While it may look a little chaotic, this picture shows three distinct types of movement. The parasites (each cell is a white dot 400 times smaller than a glowing match head) are either spiralling, looping-the-loop, or twirling in star-like patterns. However pretty they are, watching these parasitic patterns could also guide the design of more effective drugs to stop future invasions in their elegant tracks.

Written by John Ankers

So, some eco concerns.

Avalon gained all their weight back, and they’re eating really, really well. Drawback, I had to wake up every four hours last night to feed the little bugger.

Also, does any one know of any easily accessible ways of discarding cat litter? It’s really important for me to use biodegradable litter that doesn’t go to landfills in non-biodegradable trash bags. Right now, I’m using corn cob litter. The thing is, I can’t flush it–cat feces contain a parasitic protozoan (Toxoplasma gondii) that’s been linked to mass deaths in coastal otter populations. And I can’t dump it in my yard because the parasite can live in the ground for under a year, which then affects, plants, insects, and birds.

Any advice would be most welcomed.


How Your Cat Is Making You CrazyJaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?
How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy
Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?

I got a couple of ‘asks’ in regards to my goofball diatribe over’s cats-cause-schizophrenia article… not so politely questioning where I got off slamming vetted research from a legitimate source that might actually help people coping with serious mental illness?

Okay okay.. real talk:  toxoplasmosis is indeed a real teratogen… expectant mothers have been told to avoid cleaning the litter box dating back to the 1920’s.  

Toxoplasma gondii is a fascinating little parasite…  Check out this wild article exploring the research of Czech scientist, Jaroslav Flegr.  There are some very interesting correlations between the toxo parasite and all sorts of matters ranging from a shortened attention span to sexual attraction.  It’s really a pretty cool read.

But here’s the deal…  Indoor cats pose no threat to exposing you to toxoplasmosis.  And outdoor cats who do carry the parasite, will only carry it for about three weeks during kitten-hood.  And that’s it.  

Also, it doesn’t matter, because roughly half the world’s human population carries a latent form of toxoplasma gondii already so it doesn’t fucking matter.  So expectant mothers are actually safer around their indoor cats than they are around half the world’s population. 

Stay away from half the population, everyone! those motherfuckers are going to give you the crazies!!!

This is a cyst inside the brain of a mouse

It is filled with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii

This parasite spends one stage of its life cycle in cats, and the other in different mammals - including humans. The parasite causes flu like symptoms in the host, and can rarely be fatal. When the parasite is in the brain of a mouse, it will change the animal’s behavior so that instead of being afraid of the scent of a cat, it is drawn to it. By doing this, the parasite gets a quick ride back into the stomach of a cat so it can reproduce and start over.