Cats on the Mind

  My specialty on FTDM is discussing all topics Biochemistry-related, but something's been on my mind lately and so I feel the necessity to write about it: cats. I grew up with a cat of my own when I was a kid, but nothing to this degree:

  Why have cats essentially taken over as the go-to everything for our generation over the last 5 years? It could be due to a parasite. Enter Toxoplasma gondii.  T gondii is a parasite that depends on cats for the continuation of its life cycle.  Here's a simplified diagram, provided by the CDC, to show how this life cycle works:

Red indicates the "typical" parasite-host relationship.  Blue indicates "accidental" hosts.

Red indicates the "typical" parasite-host relationship.  Blue indicates "accidental" hosts.

  What's interesting about T gondii is that its typical hosts (rats and birds) switch from having an innate fear of cats to an affinity for them [1].  This makes sense since T gondii cannot continue its life cycle without feline.  

  T gondii can also infect humans via water, unwashed fruits and veggies, guessed it...cats.  This can be detrimental for developing babies in the womb.  As you may have inferred by now, infected humans behave similarly towards cats as do infected rats or birds - and the numbers of infected humans is increasing [2].

  Could this be why the number of young adult cat lovers is trending [3]?  What are you thoughts?

  Aside from my Biochemistry focus, I've always had a secret love for parasites.  In fact, one of my favorite reads is Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex.  Hope this article on T gondii gets you interested in parasites as well! 

1. Webster JP. "The effect of Toxoplasma gondii on animal behavior: playing cat and mouse." Schizophrenia bulletin 33.3 (2007): 752-756.
2. Meerburg, Bastiaan G., and Aize Kijlstra. "Changing climate—changing pathogens: Toxoplasma gondii in North-Western Europe." Parasitology research 105.1 (2009): 17-24.
3. Flegr, Jaroslav, and Jan Havlicek. "Changes in the personality profile of young women with latent toxoplasmosis." Folia parasitologica 46.4 (1999): 22-28.

Questions, comments, confusions?