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

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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]

Lost Your Wallet? You Might Be More Likely to Get It Back If There's Cash Inside

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iStock/tzahiV

Few things can incite more panic than discovering you’ve lost a wallet or purse containing money, identification, credit cards, and/or keys. You wonder if anyone will find it—and if they do, whether they’ll decide to retain your cash using the playground ethics of the "finders keepers" rule.

An ambitious new study in the journal Science has provided at least a partial answer. If your wallet has cash inside, it’s actually more likely for people to return it than if it didn’t have any.

Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted an exercise in civic honesty, dispatching 13 assistants to 355 cities in 40 countries across the globe. At each destination, the assistants were armed with clear wallets that held things like grocery lists and business cards along with an email address. Some wallets had no money inside. Others contained about $13.45 in the local currency. The assistants gave the wallets to employees at banks, hotels, post offices, museums, and police stations, explaining they had “found” the wallet and were in too big of a hurry to contact the owner themselves. They passed the responsibility to the person receiving the wallet. All told, 17,303 wallets were left as proverbial bait to see what the employees might do.

Of the wallets without cash inside, researchers received an email seeking to return roughly 40 percent of them. About 51 percent of the employees attempted to return the wallets containing $13.45 in cash.

These percentages fluctuated by country. In Denmark, 82 percent of wallets with cash were returned. In the United States, the figure was 57 percent. When researchers upped the stakes by including $94.15 in wallets for areas in the U.S., Britain, and Poland, the return rate went up to 72 percent.

It’s difficult to infer motivations for why people returned wallets with more money than less, or none. In a survey, researchers found that people in general described wanting to avoid feeling like a thief by keeping the money. (Respondents were different than the employees who were left with the wallet.) That would explain why returns increased as the dollar amount went up.

The study was limited by the fact that the wallets were left with people who could have presumably been held accountable for not returning them. The research assistant could have returned to inquire about the wallet’s status, while no such concern exists for people finding a wallet in the street. Still, it does indicate that people feel a measure of sympathy for—and moral obligation to—lost money and will make an effort to see it returned.

[h/t Science News]

Some Fish Eggs Can Hatch After Being Pooped Out by Swans

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iStock/olaser

A question that’s often baffled scientists is how certain species of fish can sometimes appear—and even proliferate—in isolated bodies of water not previously known to harbor them. A new study has demonstrated that the most unlikely explanation might actually be correct: It’s possible they fell from the sky.

Specifically, from the rear end of a swan.

A study in the journal Ecology by researchers at the Unisinos University in Brazil found that killifish eggs can, in rare cases, survive being swallowed by swans, enduring a journey through their digestive tracts before being excreted out. This kind of fecal public transportation system explains how killifish can pop up in ponds, flood waters, and other water bodies that would seem an unlikely place for species to suddenly appear.

After discovering that some plants could survive being ingested and then flourish in swan poop, researchers took notice of a killifish egg present in a frozen fecal sample. They set about mixing two species of killifish eggs into the food supply of coscoroba swans living in a zoo. After waiting a day, they collected the poop and dug in looking for the eggs.

Of the 650 eggs they estimated to have been ingested by the swans, about five were left intact. Of those, three continued to develop. Two died of a fungal infection, but one survived, enduring 30 hours in the gut and hatching 49 days after being excreted.

Because killifish eggs have a thick outer membrane, or chorion, they stand a chance of coming through the digestive tract of an animal intact. Not all of what a swan ingests will be absorbed; their stomachs are built to extract nutrients quickly and get rid of the whatever's left so the birds can eat again. In rare cases, that can mean an egg that can go on to prosper.

Not all fish eggs are so durable, and not all fish are quite like the killifish. Dubbed the "most extreme" fish on Earth by the BBC, killifish have adapted to popping up in strange environments where water may eventually dry up. They typically live for a year and deposit eggs that can survive in soil, delaying their development until conditions—say, not being inside a swan—are optimal. One species, the mangrove killifish, can even breathe through its skin. When water recedes, they can survive on land for over two months, waddling on their bellies or using their tails to "jump" and eat insects. A fish that can survive on dry land probably doesn't sweat having to live in poop.

The researchers plan to study carp eggs next to see if they, too, can go through a lot of crap to get to where they’re going.

[h/t The New York Times]

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