Don't be fooled by the bright and pretty colors splashed across a seemingly harmless floating and flying shape. That red and purple creature is in fact a dangerous parasite that controls its host cell to move around the body to infect important organs, including the brain.
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine made this worrying discovery, and their study has been published in the journal, mBio.
A hijacking parasite
The thought of parasites makes most people's skin crawl. They're nasty little creatures that can wind up making your life a misery. To add to that list, the team at Indiana University has discovered more information about a particularly dangerous parasite, and it'll make you want to run for the hills.
But the good news is that by having more information on it, the team has opened up a door for the development of new drugs to treat this infection.
What the parasite in question essentially does is it takes control of a patient's cells as it spread around their body.
As Leonardo Augusto, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Indiana explained "The parasite essentially hijacks these cells, using them as vehicles to get to various organ systems, including the brain."
"It’s like the parasite is taking the wheel of its host cell and using it to spread around the body."
The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is one that infects around one-third of the world's population. The typical way to become infected by it is through cat feces. In some people, the parasite can cause life-threatening problems as it reaches up into the brain. Once in the brain, the parasite remains as a latent cyst, sitting there waiting to reactivate as soon as the immune system is a little low.
"One of the key problems in battling an infection like Toxoplasma is controlling its spread to other parts of the body," Augusto said. "Upon ingestion of the parasite, it makes its way into immune cells and causes them to move—a behavior called hypermigratory activity. How these parasites cause their infected cells to start migrating is largely unknown."
The upcoming work is to find a treatment against the spread of such a parasite.