Livin' on the MDedge

Common brain parasite linked to attractiveness, new study


That Toxoplasma gondii looks good on you

Parasite and attractiveness don’t usually go together, but it appears that nobody told Toxoplasma gondii. The world’s most successful parasite affects 30%-50% of the world’s population, and it’s mainly thought to go after the brain in humans, possibly changing behavior and leading to neurological disorders and mental illness.

Now, are you ready to be super confused? According to a recent study, those affected with T. gondii were seen as more attractive and healthy looking, compared with noninfected people. It doesn’t make much sense to us, but it could be an evolutionary thing: The more attractive the parasite makes a person or animal, the more likely it is to spread.

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“Some sexually transmitted parasites, such as T. gondii, may produce changes in the appearance and behavior of the human host, either as a by-product of the infection or as the result of the manipulation of the parasite to increase its spread to new hosts,” Javier Borráz-León, PhD, of the University of Turku (Finland), and associates wrote in PeerJ.

Previous research has suggested that men with more testosterone are more likely to become infected because of their behavior with the extra hormones. It’s also been noted that the parasite may manipulate hormones for its own gain, but that’s not proven. Infected women were found to have a lower BMI, more confidence in their appearance, and more partners. Dr. Borráz-León and associates also found that “Toxoplasma-infected subjects had significantly lower facial fluctuating asymmetry than the noninfected people,” ScienceAlert said.

We usually perceive parasites as a bad thing, but honestly this one isn’t sounding too bad. It seems to help with some confidence boosters, and who doesn’t want that? We’re thinking that T. gondii could be the Next Big Thing. All it needs is some marketing and … what if it was covered with nonpareils?

Give it to me straight, Doc. Don’t sugar coat it.

Okay, so he’s not a doctor – not a medical doctor, anyway – but that’s exactly what he did. William H. Grover, PhD, has sugar coated drugs in the name of fraud prevention. We will explain.

The sugar coating comes in the form of nonpareils, the tiny and colorful round sprinkles often found covering small discs of chocolate. Dr. Grover, a bioengineering professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has been working on ways to ensure the authenticity of pharmaceuticals, “started wondering how many different patterns of colored nonpareils were possible on these candies,” he said in a statement from the university.


With just eight colors and an average of 92 individual nonpareils on each candy, the combinations, he found out, are almost endless. Could the same thing be done with a pill? Could the nonpareils be applied as a coating to a pill, giving it a unique pattern that could be stored by the manufacturer and used later as identification?

After much time and effort involving edible cake-decorating glue, Tylenol capsules, smartphones, and computer simulations, he produced CandyCode, an algorithm that converts a photo of a nonpareil-covered pill “into a set of text strings suitable for storing in a computer database and querying by consumers,” the statement explained.

Dr. Grover also mentioned a side benefit: “Anecdotally, I found that CandyCoded caplets were more pleasant to swallow than plain caplets, confirming Mary Poppins’ classic observation about the relationship between sugar and medicine.”

First of all, we can’t believe we just used a Mary Poppins reference. Not exactly what you’d call MDedgey, is it? Second of all, what about the children? We’re talking about drugs that, literally, have been turned into candy. Are the kids going to love them, too? Sounds more like a job for Mr. Yuk.

So you want to be a superhero?

Be honest, who didn’t want to be a superhero when they were a kid? There’s a reason every other movie released in the past decade has been a superhero movie. That’s how we’ve ended up with the millionth Batman reboot and Marvel scraping the bottom of the C-list hero barrel. (Seriously, who’d actually heard of Moon Knight before now?)

superhero cartoon rudall30/

Point is, we all like to fantasize, and now a meta-analysis from researchers in Germany and the United States has given us all a reason to strike those dashing superhero poses. Through evaluation of 130 studies and over 10,000 people, the researchers found that power posing (and perfect posture) was strongly associated with increased confidence and self-worth. It was also associated with improved behavior, though the connection was less strong.

Sadly though, the research found no connection with power posing and changes in testosterone or cortisol levels. Standing like a superhero may make you feel good, but it won’t give your body any cool powers or superhuman abilities. But don’t despair, because we’re not finished yet. In fact, it may be the biggest news we’ve ever reported for LOTME: A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky has assembled the full genome of a salamander.

Wait, we have more! Beyond having a genome ten times bigger than a human, this salamander, the axolotl from Mexico, is the model of natural regeneration. Name a body part, and the axolotl can grow it back. It can even regenerate portions of its brain. And now that we have access to the complete genome, it’s possible that one day we could use the axolotl’s regeneration for ourselves. Growing back limbs, regenerating spinal cords, the sky’s the limit. And if Wolverine and Deadpool are anything to go by, it’s all you need to get that superhero career off the ground. Salamander powers may not have the cachet of a radioactive spider, but we’ll take what we can get.


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