Fecal parasites as business partners

October 26, 2018

What if cat excrements helped people start their own businesses? And we are not talking about selling litter boxes: there is an actual link between having an entrepreneurial spirit and a parasite infection of fecal sources. Yes, you just read that!

Toxoplasma gondiiis a parasite present in cats' digestive systems. Don't bother checking the cat's poop: you won't see worms in it, as Toxoplasma gondiiis microscopic, a lot smaller than your body’s cells. This undesirable being is a mandatory intracellular parasite, which means it lives insideits host's cells.

Toxoplasma gondii'sgoal is simple: to infect as many individuals as possible and lay its eggs using cat excrements as its vector. Those eggs contaminate water, soil and vegetation. It’s enough for a bird or mammal to ingest them for them to become hosts as well. But be aware that Toxoplasma gondii's travels don’t end there! The parasite can’t reproduce inside the intermediary host. It needs the bowels of a feline to be able to proliferate.

That’s where the story takes an unexpected turn: the parasite modifies the intermediary host's behavior to increase its chances of ending up in kitty’s mouth. When ingested again, the little pest can complete its life cycle. Even though the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are still debated, its effects cannot be denied: infected mice stop being as fearful of cats. While healthy rodents will run away from their natural predators, a rodent with Toxoplasma gondii, on the other hand, will be attracted by the smell of cat urine.

As if that weren’t spine-chilling enough, many parasites have this ability to modify the behavior of their hosts. Although the chances of being eaten by our cat are low (at least we hope they are!) humans aren’t immune to this! It is said that no less than a third of the world's population has toxoplasmosis.

In the vast majority of cases, this condition causes no symptoms. However, some studies suspect a link between being a carrier for the parasite and certain risky behaviors. For instance, the presence of the parasite in our bodies could inhibit fear enough to increase the number of traffic accidents! And even more impressive, a study has observed that, among university students, those infected with the parasite were 1.4 times more likely to major in entrepreneurship. A similar tendency was detected among the participants of entrepreneurship events: professionals who are carriers of the parasite are 1.8 times more likely to have started their own company. So although it doesn’t guarantee great managerial skills for its host, Toxoplasma gondii can definitelymake him or her bolder when it comes to business-savvy. 

Although it is not necessarily a causal link, it’s definitely food-for-thought (excuse the pun). In your opinion, does the Cateco team have small parasites as business partners?

(P.S. When cleaning the litter box, you are probably exposed to the parasite. Don’t forget to wash your hands. That is, if you wish to retain some sort of control over your own destiny!)

By : 

Geneviève Coudé

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