Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More than you wanted to know about cat litter

One of the things I do when I travel is take my back issues of Science with me and read through them while I am waiting to do computer work. When I get to a page that elicits a wow, cool, huh! or huh? I tear it out, fold it in half, and stow it. I have a couple of inches of these folded up pages on my desk. Most of them represent future good intentions to follow up, forward to someone, or just keep in my memory. Here is a little story about a Huh! I found last week.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that requires a cat intestine, where it starts its life cycle, and another host, e.g., a rat. Toxoplasma returns to the cat intestine to start it all over again. To improve its chances, Toxoplasma cysts form preferentially on the rat amygdale, which controls fear responses in the brain. Infected rats don’t just mellow out, they specifically lose fear of the smell of cats, which makes it easier for the parasite to make it back to the cat intestine. So now you know why pregnant women should not handle cat litter.


LouLou! said...

You know, I am just catching up on blog-reading. I had no clue about the connection to rats......That, my dear cousin, is one of the many things I love about you. Riveting science factoids for the non-science lover.

LouLou! said...

I suppose you've ditched bloggin?