Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pushy Parasites and Suicidal Bugs

I was searching for something on Mother's Day, which made me think of roses which brought thoughts of bugs which dared me to ponder unusual facts about parasites which inject themselves into said creatures. Ready?

A grasshopper infected with the parasite hairworm (spinochondodes telinii) will seek out water and toss itself in, a clear suicidal behavior. This action insures the hairworm will reproduce. Spooky.

Rodents infected with toxiplasma gondi exhibit strange behaviors. They lose their instinctual aversion to cats. This is beneficial to the parasite because it sexually reproduces in cats th
at have eaten infected mice or rats. Then the cats spread toxi through their droppings. But wait:

People infected with toxiplasma gondi act a little nutty too. If you're infected with this parasite through cat droppings, you're likely to act neurotic and uncertain. They've even studied the correlation between countries with a high rate of toxi infections and mental illness. Holy moses, they need to study my relatives!

Some crustaceans, once infected by tremotodes, will shy away from light, another suicidal or evasive behavior, as it makes them crawl around in the open looking for shade, hence more likely to be eaten by birds - who in turn, are now infected with the trematode parasite. Pretty sneaky.

Ah - plasmodium! The cause of malaria, affecting both mosquitoes and animals. Once infected, a mosquito is more likely to bite more than once in a night, spending far more time drinking blood. In turn, if a human is infected with plasmodium he becomes more attractive to mosquitoes, thus continuing the life cycle of the parasite. Astonishingly brilliant.

Of course, all this makes fertile ground for science fiction, with parasites invading the brain and taking control of the human. Ewww!

The truth is, retroviral infection from parasites and microbes have had quite an effect on human evolution. Over millions of years, they have been incorporated into our genomes. It is estimated by biologists and other high-thinking persons that as much as a third of our genome consists of bits and pieces of old retroviruses - remnants of ancient virual infections.

So what the heck are you talking about, Cathy?

Fair enough. It basically means that these very old microbes, with us for quite awhile, may be part of the reason humans evolved their intellect quicker and on the scale we have. These living viruses cannot leave the host cell and infect other cells, so you'd think it would die when the host does. But by evolving mutations in their own genetic code, now get this - it can use the host cell - US - to make copies of itself including a protective protein which allows it to leave the cell and go infect other cells. To travel! Parasitic life forms have evolved with us, and made us...smarter?

It's something to dare think about.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Note: I have not posted any pictures to help keep you from losing your lunch.


Big Mark 243 said...

In the near future I plan on making a post about something I call 'institional character' and I aim to use sports to illustrate it. I seek to explain why I feel some families seem to have a certain level of success or fail in their lives.

This post about parasites and how they affect their host is in line with my explination.

One of my fave Marvel characters is the Mighty Thor. He fought a cat called 'Zaniac' and when he slew him, little daemons bounced out of his body... so I think that device shares something in common with your post. It was saying that the person was not in control of his actions as much as he was a vessel for the parasites he was infected with.

Anywho... I liked this post... thought you were going to hip folks up to the LHC and how it will one day become the doom of the world as it opens a rift in space/time...

...oh, and because they SAY it can't and if it could they wouldn't let it happen doesn't mean that it WON'T!!

Gledwood said...

I wanna know why Evoltion has been so slow in giving us humans wings. Imagine how much energy we could save if we could glide into town on the east wind... no car parking charges, no congested streets (but congested skies!)

Anonymous said...

So here we humans are, thinking ourselves the pinochle of evolution, when all we really are is something for a parasite to eat.

Cool. :)

John Hayes said...

That is some amazing stuff! Those parasites are pretty crafty, even without opposable thumbs.

ADB said...

These bugs have been around for millions of years and have had time to smarten up. We've only been around for a few seconds. Who do we think we are??

Remo said...

I'm a firm believer that our increasingly compromised immune systems is (partially) due to the social bubble we put our kids in these days. Good grief - when I was a kid we were in the dirt and filth all day long and our immune systems got a chance to develop resistance. Kids nowdays are like little cocoon babies.

Cathy said...

Remo you don't know how right you are. Today a developing human doesn't have to listen to anything they don't want (thanks iPod) can spend all their lives talking anywhere anytime (thanks cell phones)doesn't have to read the glory of the written word (thanks computers which I'm using right now - o the hypocrisy!) I live in hope for the future - if we don't start communicating we'll be devoured by worms.

Diane J Standiford said...

Fascinating. Remo, so true.
Cathy, cremation or worms.

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