Business & Economy Technology Can a parasite in cat poop turn you into the next Bill...

Can a parasite in cat poop turn you into the next Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey?

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If you knew it would reduce your fear of failure and turn you into a risk taker—qualities that make a good entrepreneur—would you welcome getting infected by a cat-poop parasite?

Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which is usually found in cat feces. Many people have heard of it already, but a fact that is lesser known is that 2 billion people worldwide have already been infected by it.

Photo: YouTube screengrab

This means that if you have four people in one room, chances are that one of those people is positive for the parasite.

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We think that’s gross, right, but it’s not necessarily bad news!

While Toxoplasma gondii has been the suspected culprit behind a number of human ills—including depression (yikes!), acts of aggression (more yikes!) and several types of psychosis (even more yikes!), a new study published on July 25 called Risky business: linking Toxoplasma gondii infection and entrepreneurship behaviours across individuals and countries suggests that there is a connection between the parasite infection and being an entrepreneur.

Yes, it seemed like quite a stretch to us, too.

Toxoplasma gondii is reproduced only in cats and is passed through feline feces. It can infect any warm blooded being that comes enough to the cat poop. Scientists have found that the parasite changes the behavior of rodents, making infected mice brave enough to come close to cat urine and explore mazes for a longer time, thus making them more vulnerable to predators.

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The brains of infected animals change in such a way that levels of hormones like serotonin, dopamine and testosterone are changed, so that fear is reduced in the rodents, and along with this, other aspects of personality, mental health and judgment are changed.

Infected humans have so far shown to be asymptomatic.

But a business professor at the University of Colorado, Stefanie Johnson, examined studies about how the parasite has affected communities around the globe. One study revealed that folks who died due to risky behavior were more likely to be infected by the parasite, than say, those who perished from a heart attack.

Ms. Johnson, lead author of the study mentioned above, decided to look at the business implications of Toxoplasma gondii, testing almost 1500 American college level students majoring in business or biology, roughly one-fifth of whom tested positive for the parasite.

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She found that

  • Business majors were more prone to show positive test results for Toxoplasma gondii
  • The business majors who did test positive for the parasite were almost two times more likely to major in entrepreneurship or management, as opposed to a field less risky such as accounting

This gave rise to the possibility that the parasite may cause people to pursue more risky majors than those who aren’t infected.

Secondly, Ms. Johnson and her team examined almost 200 US businessmen and women and discovered that those who tested positive for the parasite are almost twice more likely to have begun their own businesses.

Thirdly, in their examination of patterns of infection across the globe, Ms. Johnson’s team found that countries that have higher rates of infection had higher numbers of people who have started their own businesses.

Ms. Johnson said that the infection reduces fear of failure, which explains the higher number of businesses began in places of higher incidence of infection.

So, will a cat poop infection turn you into the next big entrepreneur? And can we say that fecal matter is behind the success of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and others?

Maybe…or maybe not. Many scientists around the world believe that there is still very little evidence to prove that in this case, correlation proves causation. Simply put, the numbers are not enough.

Ms. Johnson herself says that the true story may the other way around, that it’s possible that a person’s entrepreneurial—or risk welcoming— behavior is is what causes them to get infected by a cat poop parasite.

Either way, it certainly is an intriguing thought.

But not one that should cause you to manually handle your cat’s feces to deliberately get infected, in the hopes of discovering and marketing the world’s next big thing.

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