‘Mind controller’ makes parasitic hyenas carefree of lions

'Mind controller' makes parasitic hyenas carefree of lions

Toxoplasma is a parasite that infects about a third of the world’s human population and is known for its ability to manipulate hosts such as laboratory mice into becoming careless. A study published in the scientific journal nature communication It was found for the first time that the same effect can be observed in wild animals.

Researchers find that hyena pups are infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii They become careless in front of their natural predators, lions. In the same way a rat gets infected by going to domestic cats.

Studies show that uninfected hyena chicks lived an average of 90 meters from lions. People with antibodies to toxoplasmosis reached an average distance of 40 meters. That way, they are four times more likely to be killed. The data was collected in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

Kay Holekamp, ​​a behavioral ecologist at Michigan State University and co-author of a new study on the topic, said, “This parasite not only affects their prey like domestic cats and rats, but it can be a much more widespread phenomenon.” ” , told National Geographic the topic published in the scientific journal nature communication. She has been studying hyena since 1988.

attracted by the smell of urine

Parasites can infect many host species, including rodents, birds, and other prey, if they consume contaminated meat or feces. Over millions of years of evolution, this distant cousin of malaria has worked out an interesting trick: rodents with toxoplasmosis find the smell of cat urine extremely appealing, and it can bring them closer to a hungry cat.

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“This phenomenon not only promotes remodeling of the parasite’s genome, it also allows the production of environmentally stable spores that can infect many other hosts,” study co-author Zach explained to National Geographic. . Laubach, postdoctoral fellow, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Stephanie Johnson, a researcher at the University of Colorado, says the study is unprecedented and innovative and believes the effects seen in hyenas are just one part of a set of strategies that parasites have to control their hosts, which can function in other ways. Don’t know yet..

“This confirms that Toxoplasma has strong effects on the behavior of mammals. It is a parasite that people think is quite harmful, especially in humans, but when we consider some of the observed effects, Toxoplasma in humans can have a serious impact on behavior, even at a social level”, the researchers say.

About the author: Muhammad Wayne

Wayne is a reporter who covers everything from oil trading to China's biggest conglomerates and technology companies. Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program.

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