Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Return of the Puppet Masters

Mind-controlling parasites have traditionally been found in works of science fiction. Making the rounds not too long ago was an article on the Nematomorph hairworm, a parasitic worm that turns grasshoppers into suicide machines. The following Loom article by Carl Zimmer raises new disturbing questions in this area:

"Are brain parasites altering the personalities of three billion people? The
question emerged a few years ago, and it shows no signs of going away.

"I first encountered this idea while working on my book
Parasite Rex. I was
investigating the remarkable ability parasites have to manipulate the behavior
of their hosts. The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum, for example, forces
its ant host to clamp itself to the tip of grass blades, where a grazing mammal
might eat it. It's in the fluke's interest to get eaten, because only by getting
into the gut of a sheep or some other grazer can it complete its life cycle.
Another fluke, Euhaplorchis californiensis, causes infected fish to shimmy and
jump, greatly increasing the chance that wading birds will grab them.

continued here

(via the excellent 3 Quarks Daily)


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