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Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies

Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies: The ability of parasites to alter the behaviour of their hosts fascinates both scientists and non-scientists alike. One reason that this topic resonates with so many is that it touches on core philosophical issues such as the existence of free will. If the mind is merely a machine, then it can be controlled by any entity that understands the code and has access to the machinery. This special issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology highlights some of the best-understood examples of parasite-induced changes in host brain and behaviour, encompassing both invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and micro- and macro-parasites. Full issue annotated inside: [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Dec 9, 2012 - 13 comments

Parasite Parade

The parasite Toxoplasma makes rats lust for cat pee and people drive motorbikes. Other behaviour-modifying parasites include Cordyceps (YouTube) and Sacculina. (Warning: Icky.)
posted by Zarkonnen on Jun 4, 2010 - 33 comments

Toxoculture

Can pathogens effect culture? Possibly.
posted by delmoi on Aug 2, 2006 - 35 comments

Nature is stupidly clever

"Creatures are out there that can control brains." [pdf]

The women "spent more money on clothes and were consistently rated as more attractive", but were "less trustworthy and had more relationships with men". The men become "less well groomed undesirable loners who were more willing to fight". All "are at greater risk of being involved in car accidents". Why? Something has its tentacles in their brains. They probably got it from that cuddly old species, the domestic cat, which the parasite infects by making infected rats "almost taunt" the cats into eating them.

Parasites in the brain alter their host's behavior. It's not just video game fiction. Various multi-host parasites make their living by making their hosts less ambulatory and less willing to explore, by castrating them and making them less cautious of predators, or by forcing their hosts to stay out all night so as to be eaten in the morning. These parasites offer yet another example of how stupidly clever evolution can be, and raise questions about how free "free will" really is.
posted by orthogonality on Jun 10, 2005 - 80 comments

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