Greetings everybody

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of posts and let me assure you I had every intention to keep to that weekly post of Planet Earth 2 highlights. However, I have recently received a call from a publishing company interested in publishing my final year dissertation in a book form! Only issue is my original document was 25 pages long they require a minimum of 42 pages. 

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Needless to say, all hours of the day have been spent working on this dissertation in order to send it of to them and start on the next step. 
Greetings everybody

Planet Earth 2 has managed to shock its viewers with even more ground breaking and astonishing footage of the natural world! Then again did we ever doubt? For the next 5 or so weeks my weekly posts are going to show my own personal highlights from each episode. Expect a little more information into some of the species featured in each of David Attenborough's Planet Earth 2 episodes... Its going to be awesome. Also, post day will change from a Friday and be a Tuesday instead (just for you Planet Earth 2)!

For this week, I am focusing on those of you out there who have not watched it and showing you some captured images from the episode. 

You missed...

Dragon Turf Wars: Two equally sized Komodo Dragons battle it out for ultimate mating rates to a nearby lady dragon. 

If you thought that Emperor Penguins had it hard living in Arctic conditions you have never seen the Chinstrap penguin. My heart went out to these little guys, battling some of the stormiest waters on a daily basis just to feed their own chicks, their bodies thrown against rocks. Sadly the reality is not all survive and those that do can come back with some horrific injuries. 

Ultimate race of a lifetime played out between marine iguana hatchlings and racer snakes. This was footage that you had to see to believe! This little baby marine iguanas trying to make it to the safety of the sea with a a legion of racer snakes hunting them! Do they make it? You need to watch!

Guys it is still available of BBC iPlayer! You are heading off into the weekend watch it tonight or tomorrow but make sure you do not miss this weeks episode on BBC Sunday at 8pm! It looks amazing with rare footage of snow leopards. 

Over and out!

Greetings everybody, 

It's Monday which means it's not everybody's favourite day of the week but I read something recently that said reading a scientific blog post on a Monday increases individual productivity by up to 30%! 

Am I lying about that figure... yes, yes I am. Let's get to the point though shall we, today we are looking on the stranger side of nature, today we learn about how a parasite can manipulate the mind of its host. 

Introducing Toxoplasma Gondii

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This single-celled intracellular protozoan has the capability of infecting all mammals and even birds and leads to the onset of toxoplasmosis. The disease caused by this pathogen, Toxoplasmosis, is of serious medical, veterinary and economic importance. The Centre for Disease Control recognises Toxoplasma Gondii and the disease it causes to be a Neglected Parasite Infection and as such is targeted by the  CDC for public health action. 

Parasitic lifestyles are always a bit complicated... 

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Gametes (the sex cells) of the parasite meet on the inside of a predator (usually a cat) gut and fuse together to form an oocyte. 
The oocytes that carry the infectious agents are shed in the cat's faeces. Changing of the cat litter and failing to wash hands could lead to humans ingesting the parasite themselves, and in pregnant women could lead to vertical transmission from mother to baby. Alternatively, the oocytes could work their way up the food chain and contaminated drink or undercooked meat could lead to people getting infected also. 

The "Fatal Attraction Phenomenon"

The most interesting route of transmission, however, comes when a mice becomes infected with the oocyte itself. The effects of the parasite on mice are unique in that this pathogen invades the brain of the mice and removes the fear of cats. This manipulation can partly be explained by the manipulation hypothesis. It states that parasites altering the behaviour of its host for the continued existence of the parasite, often by intensifying its chances for successful transmission.  

If you're still wondering why this parasite removes the inbuilt fear of cats in mice allow me to explain further. Toxoplasma gondii is able to infect a wide range of mammals and birds. However, cats are the only mammals known to shed the parasites oocytes in their faeces, as their gut offers the perfect environment to complete their life cycle, making cats the ultimate endgame. 

Interestingly, rodents are not only absent of all fear to cats but have been shown to be drawn towards the smell of a cat's urine! How does this "fatal attraction phenomenon" work? Toxoplasma gondii may have an anxiolytic effect on rodents infected by it. It has been shown in past studies that by blocking key receptors that are usually anxiogenic it allowed rats to feel a sense of reduced anxiety in situations where predator threat was high.  This increases the chances of the parasite landing exactly where it wants to be, in the gut of a cat, by causing the mouse to be eaten! 

Are you a man, a mouse, or a mouse infected with Toxoplasma gondii....

Well, that brings us to the end of this magically parasitic post. Some would argue that manipulation of the host's mind was an evolutionary inevitability in cases such as Toxoplasma gondii. Either way, I thought it was an awesome case study of a not so classic parasitic relationship. Let's face it we all know the most common parasitic relationship, the one of a child (the parasite) and its parent's bank account (the host)! 

Have an awesome week guys, 
Over and out. 
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