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Study finds microbes manipulate your mind

Mo Costandi
London Guardian [1]
Aug 20, 2012

“The thought of parasites preying on your body or brain very likely sends shivers down your spine. Perhaps you imagine insectoid creatures bursting from stomachs or a malevolent force controlling your actions. These visions are not just the night terrors of science-fiction writers—the natural world is replete with such examples.

“Take Toxoplasma gondii, the single-celled parasite. When mice are infected by it, they suffer the grave misfortune of becoming attracted to cats. Once a cat inevitably consumes the doomed creature, the parasite can complete its life cycle inside its new host. Or consider Cordyceps [2], the parasitic fungus that can grow into the brain of an insect. The fungus can force an ant to climb a plant before consuming its brain entirely. After the insect dies, a mushroom sprouts from its head, allowing the fungus to disperse its spores as widely as possible.”

That’s the introduction to my feature article [3] about how the microbes in your gut might influence your brain and behaviour, which is out now in the July/ August issue of Scientific American MIND. The article focuses mainly on the work of Jane Foster [4] and John Bienenstock [5] of McMaster University in Ontario and John Cryan [6] of University College Cork, who have been collaborating on experiments designed to test how certain species of gut bacteria influence the activity of genes in the brain. Below is a story I wrote last year about some of the work from Foster’s group, updated to include quotes and new research that has been published since I wrote the feature.

Full article here [1]