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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Suicide Bug/Mind Control 

The worm, Spinochordodes tellinii, is aquatic as an adult, but lives in brains as larva and consequently, it needs its hosts to be in the water when it matures. For reasons not made clear by the article, S. tellinii uses grasshoppers (instead of, say, fish) as hosts, so of course the problem for them is to get these hosts into the water - swimming not a normal grasshopper activity - so that the mature worm can escape to live its life.

To do this, S. tellinii has evolved an unbelievably cool trick: like those alien body snatchers, it takes control of the grasshopper's brain, and forces it to commit watery suicide. The maturing worm produces a number of proteins which mimic grasshopper neurotransmitters and hormones, forcing the host to go for a swim, at which point the worm busts out, killing its host.

The question is, what proteins are these? This is not only cool from a biology perspective, but the potential implications for psychiatry are huge! Anyone have full-text for Proc. Royal Soc. B?

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