The Parasite Files

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If pubic lice are not the sort of thing you want to be seen reading about, let me give you the opportunity to close your browser window right now. But if you’re at all curious about the secret that pubic lice have been keeping for over three million years, the tale of a mysterious liaison…

Build Me A Tapeworm

Darwin gave a lot of thought to the strangest creatures on this planet, wondering how they had evolved from less strange ancestors. Whales today might be fish-like warm-blooded beasts with blowholes and flukes, but long ago, Darwin argued, their ancestors were ordinary mammals that walked on land with legs. His suggestion was greeted with shock…

Thanks to PZ Myers for calling attention to this superb video of Corydceps, a parasitic fungus that drives its insect host up a plant before growing a spike out of its head. Leave it to David Attenborough, master of the nature documentary, to bring the beauty of this parasite to video. I’ve seen photographs of…

Possessed: Parasite Video and Powerpoint

Well, the talk at Cornell last week went very well. Thanks to everyone who came. If you want to hear me wax rhapsodic about parasite manipulations (and explain how scientists study their evolution), you’re in luck. Cornell has put the video of the talk online. The image is pretty small on the screen, so I…

Cornell Gets Infected Tomorrow

Attention all Loom readers in the Cornell University area: I’m heading up to Ithaca to give a talk tomorrow on a subject near and dear to my heart–how parasites turn their hosts into puppets and slaves. I’ll be at the David Call auditorium in Kennedy Hall at 4 pm. The lecture is open to the…

Toxoplasma: Bet On Boys

Toxoplasma, that mind-altering, cell-manipulating, all-around awesome parasite that sits in the brains of billions of us, is back in the news. Infection with the parasite raises the chances a woman will have a boy from 51% to 72%. The average ratio of boys to girls at birth is 51%. Women with high levels of antibodies…

I’m heading out of blog contact for a couple days, so allow me to share one of my favorite posts, from last January–on wasps that perform brain surgery.

Once again, I hear the siren song of Toxoplasma, the parasite that dwells in the brains of 50 million Americans. Toxoplasma gondii is an extraordinary creature, whose exploits I’ve chronicled in previous posts , an article in the New York Times and my book Parasite Rex. This single-celled organism has a life cycle that takes…

Toxoplasma on the Brain

Next time I go to the doctor, I think I’ll get him to give me a test for Toxoplasma. Fifty million Americans have the parasite, so I wouldn’t be the first. And if I was carrying it around in my head, that might explain why it’s so fascinating to me.

If you keep a vegetable garden, there’s a fair chance you’ll encounter a grisly sight this summer. Some poor caterpillar will be clutching a leaf, with the pupae of parasitic wasps sprouting off its back. It has just died in a most grotesque way. A wasp has zeroed in on the caterpillar and injected eggs…