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Published on Mar 2, 2012
Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite that can only sexually reproduce in the digestive tract of cats. Though it can only reproduce in one host, it can infect other hosts including humans, pigs, pigeons and rats. In most cases, the host does not feel the physical effects of the infection because the immune system does a good job of keeping the parasite in check.
In the case of rats, they might feel another effect: a certain fearlessness when entering cat territory. To researchers at Oxford University, it appears that rats who have been infected with Toxoplasma gondii are more likely to venture out and explore areas inhabited by cats. This means that they are ignoring the urge to run normally brought on by the presence of cats. The advantage for Toxoplasma gondii is that these rats are more likely to be eaten by cats. This gets the parasite back into the gut of a cat where it can reproduce.