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Parasite Manipulation

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Chlamydia infection rate, by country (WHO 2004) Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Are we being manipulated by microbes? The idea is not so whacky. We know that a wide range of microscopic parasites have evolved the ability to manipulate their hosts, even to the point of making the host behave in strange ways. A well-known example is Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan whose life cycle begins inside a... Read More
She looks nice in a long skirt. Source: Ted Talks The year is ending, and it’s time to take stock. Which posts interested you the most? Here are the five most popular ones, with the number of visits to each post: White skin privilege – 6923 The other slave trade – 5948 Eye color, face... Read More
Toxoplasma gondii(source: A.J. Cann) It’s long been known that many organisms are parasites, i.e., they survive by living off a host. In recent years we’ve learned that some of them can improve on their life strategy by manipulating their host’s behavior. A fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, will invade an ant’s brain and direct its host to... Read More
Squamous cervix cells covered with rod-shaped bacteria, Gardnerella vaginalis(source) Bacterial vaginosis is a common disease among reproductive-aged women: Its incidence correlates with the number of lifetime sex partners, and this correlation holds true even when one controls for a series of socioeconomic variables: poverty, smoking, body mass index, douching frequency, education, and oral contraceptive use... Read More
Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) was instrumental in bringing England into the slave trade. Was this trade a source of new pathogens for the English population? Some vaginal strains of Candida albicans have become better at sexual transmission, such as through improved adhesion to saliva-coated surfaces and through displacement of non-vaginal strains in a new host.... Read More
Preferential binding by Candida albicans to various types of cells in a macaque brain (Denaro et al., 1995). In my last post, I examined the relationship between sexual behavior and vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), a condition that occurs when certain strains of vaginal yeast (Candida albicans) become highly virulent. Clearly, the relationship is not a simple... Read More
Candida albicans. Some strains have adapted to sexual transmission. Have they gone so far as to manipulate host behavior? Vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), commonly known as vaginal yeast infection, affects 70-75% of sexually active women at least once and 5-8% recurrently (Li et al., 2008). It is usually caused by Candida albicans, a single-celled fungus that... Read More
Time to die. This parasitic fungus begins as a spore on an ant’s body. It germinates, grows inside its host and eventually directs the ant’s brain to climb a plant and clamp its mandibles around a leaf or stem. The fungus then kills its host. It won’t be such a bad year. Stock markets will... Read More
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