Entrepreneurs, parasites, fat cats and mice

Here’s a fascinating piece from the Times.

A few years ago, I was intrigued to read how the toxoplasmosis parasite modified the behaviour of mice it infected so that they were more likely to be caught and eaten by cats, thus achieving the parasite’s (presumed, none have been interviewed) goal of moving up the food-chain and perpetuating its species.

The parasite increases risk-taking behaviour in infected mice: they are less scared of cats and more likely to explore unfamiliar spaces. I read somewhere else that they are more likely to be seen during the day, too.

The Times’ Tom Whipple reports on a study by Stefanie Johnson at the University of Colorado, Boulder to see if the parasite had a similar effect on human behaviour:

To investigate that theory, they looked at three groups. The first was a sample of 1,500 US students who were studying biology or business. Those on the business course were almost 50 per cent more likely to have the parasite. The second was 200 people attending entrepreneurship events. There, infected people were 80 per cent more likely to have started their own business.

Finally, they investigated how global infection rates — which range from 9 per cent in Norway to 60 per cent in Brazil — correlated to an index of entrepreneurial activity. Again, the presence of the parasite was linked to being more orientated towards starting a business, and less troubled about a fear of it failing.

Stefanie Johnson, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said that she was not surprised by the findings. “Other data has looked at autopsy results from people who died doing risky things — riding a motorcycle without a helmet or skydiving,” she said. They were more likely to have toxoplasmosis than people who died from less risky causes.

The Times article is here.

The University of Colorado’s piece is here.

As we so often find, we are never quite the masters of our fate that we like to think.

Thus, I confidently predict that we sovereign professionals are a parasite-ridden bunch. Happy Friday!


Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash