A New Study Argues a Cat Parasite Might Make You More Ambitious

iStock
iStock

We don’t normally associate parasitic infection with entrepreneurship, but a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B makes an argument that a common cat parasite could be connected to having business ambition.

When you come in contact with cat feces, you open yourself up to the risk of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite also found in undercooked meat and contaminated water. (Half of infected humans in the U.S. get it from food.) Despite its rather dire profile—it’s a brain parasite that can form cysts in hosts—T. gondii typically doesn’t result in any noticeable symptoms. In fact, as the authors note, one-third of the world’s population may be infected. It's mostly of concern to pregnant women, because a new infection can cause potentially fatal birth complications.

The University of Colorado study looked at 1495 U.S. students who submitted a saliva sample and were grouped according to whether they tested positive for T. gondii. Those who did were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to place an emphasis on management and entrepreneurship. In another part of the study, they found that of 197 attendees at entrepreneurial events, those infected by T. gondii were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own company compared to those who tested negative.

They also looked at the past 25 years of data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of entrepreneurial activity, and say that countries with a higher infection rate have more entrepreneurial activity and fewer people who cited a "fear of failure" as a reason to avoid starting a business.

It bears mentioning that filtering results of T. gondii through people at business events—a self-selecting group—will likely net results different than those collected among a general population, especially because T. gondii infections are so common. The authors note: "While correlational, these results highlight the linkage between parasitic infection and complex human behaviours, including those relevant to business, entrepreneurship and economic productivity."

While the effects of T. gondii on our brains and behavior are still being puzzled out, there's some evidence the microbe can influence the inhibitions and fears of its host. Scientists found that rats infected with the parasite lose their fear of cats, which are the microbe's natural host (it lives in cats' guts). In humans, T. gondii might also correspond with an increased risk of suicide, possibly due to an immune system response that can affect cytokines, molecules that affect various cells in the brain. It's possible it's not the infection but our body's reaction to it that prompts a change in behavior. Until scientists understand more about how this parasite affects our brain chemistry, it's probably best to keep washing your hands after cleaning the litter box—even if you're hoping to launch a startup.

[h/t New Scientist]

What Caused Pangea to Break Apart?

iStock.com/alfimimnill
iStock.com/alfimimnill

Emily Devenport:

There's another way to look at this question. People tend to think in terms of supercontinents forming and then breaking up again due to convection currents in the mantle, hot material rising and causing rifts in weaker spots, possibly in old sutures where the continents were shoved together—but what is really happening is that ocean basins are opening and closing, and the ocean has an active role in subduction.

The opening and closing of an ocean basin is called a Wilson Cycle. It begins when hot material rising from the mantle stretches the overlying crust. As molten material rises, a rift is formed. The rift is widened as material continues to squeeze into it. If that rifting goes on long enough, through a broad enough swath of a continent, ocean water will eventually flow into it, and an ocean basin begins to form. The upwelling of hot material will continue to rise through that thinner area of crust, pushing the plates apart. The Atlantic Ocean is an example of a basin that is well along in the Wilson Cycle; eventually subduction is going to begin at its margins, and the whole shebang will pivot.

This will happen because at the edge of continents, sediments accumulate. The weight of those sediments, combined with the weight of the water, drives the heavier, denser edge of the oceanic plate under the continental crust, which is fatter and lighter. Eventually subduction begins, and the basin begins to close again. The Pacific Ocean is an example of a basin that's closing.

If you look at a map of the oceanic rift zones, you'll notice that the one in the Atlantic is pretty much in the middle of that ocean, but the Pacific rift zone has been pulled all the way over to North America above Central America. Subduction is actively occurring on all margins of that plate.

The simple picture is that the continents are moving toward each other across the Pacific Ocean while the Atlantic Basin continues to widen. The truth is more complicated. When plates subduct, the water in the crust lowers the melting point of those rocks, so partial melting occurs. The partially melted material begins to rise through the overlying rocks, because it's less dense, and decompression melting occurs. Eventually, the upwelling of hot material forms plutons and volcanoes above the subduction zones. Fore-arc and Back-arc [PDF] basins can form. As the oceanic crust is pulled under the continental plate, island chains and other chunky bits get sutured to the edge of the continent along with sediments, making it larger. Our world is ~4.6 billion years old, so our continents are really large, now. They're unlikely to rift through the ancient cratons that formed their hearts.

What will happen if subduction begins on the eastern side of North America before the Pacific Basin closes? The margin next to California is a transform fault; it's not subducting. Will it eventually push itself under that part of North America again, or will the transform zone get bigger? The hot spot that was driving the ancient Farallon Plate under North America was eventually overridden by the southwestern states (Arizona, New Mexico, etc.) forming a rift zone. Will it continue to rift or poop out?

There are computer models predicting what supercontinent may form next. They will continue to change as our understanding of tectonic processes gets more accurate.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

The Ultimate Charles Darwin Quiz

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER