Wednesday, August 9, 2023

"Is The Urge To Start A Company Caused By Cat Feces?"

A repost from December 2022:

Business Insider is on it, December 21:

Of alpha dogs and cat poop

In Yellowstone National Park, a lone wolf usually ends up dead. Gray wolves typically live and hunt in packs, but sometimes a pack member leaves its family group. Other wolves, protecting their own pack's territory, will kill the loner. One kick from an elk or a bison can be deadly. And then there are more prosaic threats, like getting hit by a car. So why would any wolf take the risk of striking out on its own?

The traditional answer: ambition. "Not a lot of wolves survive the process," says Kira Cassidy, a field biologist with the Yellowstone Wolf Project, which reintroduced wolves to the park in 1995. "But if you do, you have a good chance of starting your own pack." These are the top dogs, the theory goes, who slough off the strictures of bourgeoisie wolf society to make a name for themselves.

But what inspires a particular wolf to get up off its hindquarters and leave its pack behind? What is motivating them? Cassidy and her colleagues had a hypothesis: Maybe a parasitic infection was egging them along. Specifically, a microorganism called Toxoplasma gondii.

Toxo, as it's colloquially known, has a baroque life cycle. It reproduces in cat species (like the cougars in Yellowstone) but then leaps to other hosts, from rats and hyenas to people and wolves. And once it takes up residence in a new animal, Toxo is linked to all sorts of weird behavior — much of it spurred by a strangely elevated appetite for risk. Cassidy's team looked at blood samples taken from 229 captured gray wolves and compared them with the way the wolves fared in the wild. The results, published last month in the journal Communications Biology, were striking. Wolves that left their packs were twice as likely to be positive for Toxoplasma. And Toxo-positive wolves were 46 times as likely as uninfected wolves to become pack leaders.

"As we're watching them, we definitely see differences in what seems to be like personality — how shy they are, how bold they are, how willing they are to cross a road," Cassidy says. "A lot of things I may have chalked up completely to personality in years past, now I have to rethink some of that stuff. Now I think maybe part of that was because of the parasite."

If Toxo turns wolves into risk-takers, could it be having the same effect on us? It's primarily contracted from coming into contact with cat feces, contaminated water, or undercooked meat, and as many as 80% of humans may be Toxo-positive, most of them without even knowing it. And there's sketchy but tantalizing evidence that Toxoplasma alters our behavior, too — especially entrepreneurial behavior....


HT in a former life (we won't link to the imposter.): 

 All I can say is it's a very good thing he has a half-dozen-or-so lives left.