David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Scientists discover how the rampant 'cat poop parasite' controls cells

A nasty disease might not be able to travel around much longer.

Left: Toxoplasma gondii parasite dividing.

Credits: Left: Ke Hu and John M. Murray via Wikimedia CC BY 4.0 / Right: Harry Cunningham from Pexels
  • Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can cause behavioral changes and major health problems in humans.
  • A new study suggests its unique way of spreading in the body can be stopped.
  • The findings are currently limited to mice, but may one day result in new treatments for people.

The archetype of the crazy cat lady is embedded in our culture. It's also a notion based on some truth, with several well-known people keeping more than a few cats for company. It is also known that a parasite often transmitted from humans to cats, Toxoplasma gondii, is associated with a variety of psychological problems, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. That gives the crazy cat owner trope a tragically factual basis.

However, a new study of the widespread parasite offers new insights into the parasite's strange capacities to use cells as transportation. This breakthrough provides a chance at more effective treatments.

Of Mice, Men, and a Parasite

Toxoplasma gondii is a strange parasite. Capable of infecting most warm-blooded animals, it is best known for its presence in cats. Felines typically get the disease by eating something else that has it, like a bird or a mouse. When rodents are infected, the fear center of their brain gets turned down, they lose their aversion to cat odors and are much more active. These behavior changes are thought to make it more likely that a cat eats them.

People can either get Toxoplasma infections from interacting with contaminated cat litter or eating undercooked meat from something that was infected. The number of humans infected is estimated to be anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the global population, with fluctuations between countries.

In people without compromised immune systems, the disease is latent and generally asymptomatic—though some recent studies suggest subtle shifts in behavior even in these cases. In persons with compromised immune systems, the infection may become acute and cause seizures, vision problems, and confusion, among other issues.

It can be challenging to treat these infections due to the number of cells they are capable of infecting and its habit of spreading through the body quickly. Study lead author Dr. Leonardo Augusto explained this problem to

"One of the key problems in battling an infection like Toxoplasma is controlling its spread to other parts of the body. Upon ingestion of the parasite, it makes its way into immune cells and causes them to move—a behavior called hypermigratory activity. How these parasites cause their infected cells to start migrating is largely unknown."

This study looked at how Toxoplasma works in mice cells. Under normal conditions, certain cells undergoing stress can move to other places in the body after a protein called IRE1 is activated. Toxoplasma can activate this protein in cells that it has infected, allowing it to move around the body using the cells as a ride. In short order, it can arrive at new organs, which it then infects.

In this study, the scientists were able to deplete the supply of IRE1 in a mouse cell infected with Toxoplasma, which severely reduced cellular movement. The Toxoplasma the cells were infected with was then unable to spread to other parts of the body.

If the takeaways from this study are as useful in humans as they are in mice, it opens up routes for new treatments that may prevent the spread of the infection.

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Bubonic plague case reported in China

Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.

Vials Of Bacteria That May Cause Plague Missing From TX University

(Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images)
  • The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
  • Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
  • Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
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The dangers of the chemical imbalance theory of depression

A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.

Image: solarseven / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
  • Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
  • Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
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Navy SEALs: How to build a warrior mindset

SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.

  • The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
  • Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
  • Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
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