A Blog by Ed Yong

My TED Talk on Mind-Controlling Parasites

When we think about animal behaviour, we often assume that the animals are in charge of their own actions. That’s often not the case. At the TED2014 conference in Vancouver last week, I gave a talk on the fascinating and macabre world of mind-controlling parasites, from the tapeworm that makes shrimps sociable to the wasp that takes cockroaches for walks, with special shout-outs to the NSA and Elizabeth Gilbert. Take a look.

You can also find out more information on the talk page at TED’s site, and lots of links, citations and other goodies.

11 thoughts on “My TED Talk on Mind-Controlling Parasites

  1. Wow. Excellent talk, and you managed to forever associate Pride and Prejudice with worms exploding out of insects for me.

    I now fully understand Carl Zimmer’s ringing endorsement for you on your sidebar. XD

  2. Fascinating stuff.

    The possible effects of Toxoplasma on people’s tolerance for cat odour is doubly intriguing because cats that are big enough to eat people do not have the tomcat odour compound in their urine at anything like the concentration found in domestic cats (APPS, P, MMUALEFE, L., JORDAN, N.R. GOLABEK, K.A. AND McNUTT, J.W. 2014. The “tomcat compound” 3-mercapto-3-methylbutanol occurs in the urine of free-ranging leopards but not in African lions or cheetahs. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 53: 17-19). There is some evidence that some pursuit predators might (stepping carefully here !) select prey that smells as if it would be easier to catch (A. V. Shubkina, A. S. Severtsov, and K. V. Chepeleva. 2012. Factors Influencing the Hunting Success of the Predator: A Model with Sighthounds. Biology Bulletin 39: 65–76). So I would not be surprised if a parasite like Toxoplasma that needs its host to be eaten makes it smell even sicker than it really is, as well as erasing its aversion to predator odours.

  3. I feel like we are dancing around the crazy cat lady question. I hope Ed can clarify what he believes is going on there.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your TED. I often think about this concept of parasitic relations as they may be occurring in human beings. I think perhaps they evade our recognition as we ourselves are such. I think about when a person dies and the form is still here but the essence of that form is gone, perhaps the ego blocks the recognition that the body is a mere means to get around. My other thought was about fear being parasitic, we only measure parasites in form what about in energy. Or carried through sound, we receive a daily dose of fear and negativity it is self fulfilling and induces more of the same. Anyway…a thought provoking TED thank you.

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