Sci-Fi In Real Life: Parasites Trick Rats’ Brains Into Not Being Scared Of Cats

By Will LeBlanc | Published

Well hello there, Mr. Cat.When asked what scares them the most, people will generally gravitate towards tangible things–sharks, bears, the dark, closed spaces. These are the sort of things most people would describe as scary. But today I have something for you that you’ve probably never thought about before, but is absolutely terrifying.

Toxoplasma Gondii. Ring any bells? Chances are no, but let me enlighten you. It’s a parasite that lives in warm blooded creatures whose goal is to reproduce, which it does in the digestive system of felines. That’s not the scary part. The scary part is how it gets there. According to a recent study published at PLoS One, Toxoplasma Gondii that finds life in rats alters the brain patterns of rats so that they are no longer afraid of cats, their greatest enemy. Which essentially means that these rats no longer fear or will flee from the death that will definitely happen if they come in close proximity to a kitty.

This of course is a small example. Rats and cats, what do we humans have to worry about? Maybe nothing, but what if you went camping and all of a sudden you were no longer afraid of bears all because a little microscopic parasite wants to be inside that bear? Yeah. That’s scary.

We’ve seen this idea play out recently in films like Skyline where aliens seemingly possess their targets with rich light forcing the humans to move towards the ships that ultimately want to steal their brains. Also a recent episode of HBO’s True Blood had vampires, under mind control by witches, walking out into the sunlight to meet the true death.

This kind of sci-fi crossing over into the real world is much less exciting than the idea that one day we may be piloting Mechs around the streets. But we won’t always just be able to pick the good sci-fi to make a reality, we’ll have to accept some of the scary, horror movie stuff as well.