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10:54am, January 27, 2012

Finding parasitic behavior
Two adjacent stories, both by Tina Hesman Saey, at first glance may appear to be unrelated but in actuality show examples of a well-known phenomenon: parasites adversely affecting the behavior of the host so that the parasite can get to its next victim.

The article “Belly bacteria can boss the brain” (SN: 10/8/11, p. 9) is an example of such behavior. A stressed-out wild mouse that clings to walls and avoids swimming is a mouse that lives to breed another day. Being relaxed is no more beneficial to it than climbing to the top of the tree is for the caterpillars in “Virus gene turns gypsy moth caterpillars into climbers” (SN: 10/8/11, p. 9).

Can human apathy — or any behavioral extreme — be a symptom of a parasitic infection (bacterial, viral or other)? Perhaps instead of finding a solution to problems, researcher John Bienenstock found an explanation.

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