So what’s it like to be on the Daily Show? I spoke to Jon both before and just after the segment, and he asked me some pretty insightful questions about the nature of scientific discovery.
Okay, some of the highlights of course was getting to plug one of my favorite diseases hemochromatosis, the one which you can actually rust to death by absorbing too much iron from your diet. It’s amazing to think that this condition may have arisen to protect western Europeans from the Bubonic Plague. And even more amazing is that bloodletting or a blood donation is the treatment of choice for hemochromatosis today. I know it sounds medieval but it’s still the best therapy out there. I should know. I have hemochromatosis.
The other topic that is going to have cat lovers everywhere screaming is a nasty little parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite also goes by the name of toxoplasmosis or sometimes toxo for short. This is a really fascinating parasite because although it can infect almost every mammal out there (including humans) it needs to make its way to cats if it wants to reproduce sexually. How does it get to cats?
Recent research uncovered some shocking mind control tricks that toxoplasmosis uses. In short, when a mouse or a rat eats infected cat droppings, toxoplasmosis moves to the brain and muscle to set up shop. No one knows exactly how the next part works but it seems that being infected with toxoplasmosis can change the behavior of mice. First off the mice get fat and then they seem to lose their fear of cats, which of course turns them into cat food.
Now where does schizophrenia work into all of this? People with schizophrenia have higher rates of infection with toxoplasmosis. Which doesn’t prove a causality, because the higher rates of infection may also be due to poor hygiene or spending time institutionalized. But the smoking gun for me has to do with toxoplasmosis having the ability to change another animals behavior as in the case of mice. I believe toxoplasmosis may be an added trigger not unlike drug use to make someone who’s already susceptible to schizophrenia all the more likely to get sick.