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American Scientists Discover A Virus That Literally Causes 'Stupidity'

A disease that literally makes humans dumber...

By: Sasha Sutton  |@SashaEricaS
 on 11th November 2014 @ 12.27pm
the atcv 1 algae can slow cognitive processing © Twitter
The ATCV-1 algae can slow cognitive processing

Until now, there’s never been scientific explanation for stupidity, yet stupidity is the explanation for many things. But behold, a group of American scientists may have found the answer, after discovering a strain of algae virus which can affect cognitive functions.

Metro reports that the study, carried out by the Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska, originally set out to analyse throat microbes that can live in the throat of healthy people, and thus far have been deemed non-infectious to humans. Taking swabs from 92 healthy individuals, the researchers found that 40 tested positive for the algae, a type of chlorovirus known as ATCV-1, and that the virus had lessened their cognitive and visual processing, as well as spatial awareness.

Essentially, this microorganism was slowly making them stupid, shedding light on how something originally seen as harmless can cause subtle, unnoticed cognitive changes. According to the study, chloroviruses usually infect green algae in freshwater lakes and ponds, and were not yet to have infected or be harmful to humans. But the scientists noticed a ‘statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed’ of those who had the microbe present in their throat.

The study also tested mice, by injecting the virus into their digestive tract. The mice were then put inside a maze, and the ATCV-1 affected animals found it more difficult to navigate their way out of the maze, as well as not being as reactive to obstacles or new points of entry.

These findings highlight the effect microbial organisms can have on the human brain, changing theories on what really causes psychiatric and cognitive disorders. “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition”, said lead author Robert Yolken, Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre virologist and pediatric specialist, in a press release.

 “Many physiological differences between person A and person B are encoded in the set of genes each inherits from parents, yet some of these differences are fuelled by the various microorganisms we harbor and the way they interact with our genes”.

toxoplasma gondii is another microbe that can cause psychiatric changes © Twitter
Toxoplasma gondii is another microbe that can cause psychiatric changes

Yolken calls upon theories that the stupidity gene could be inherited from parents, but still believes that microorganisms play a major role in altering DNA and producing cognitive changes. Although our bodies are colonised by millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that are deemed harmless, new research is suggesting more and more that the tiny strains can have subtle, less obvious affects that develop over time. One is toxoplasma gondii, which although at least a quarter of the global population are unknowingly infected with it, it can trigger psychotic or schizophrenic symptoms.

“We’re really just starting to find out what some of these agents that we’re carrying around might actually do”, Yolken told Healthline. “It’s the beginning, I think, of another way of looking at infectious agents — not agents that come in and do a lot of damage and then leave, like Ebola virus or influenza virus”.

“This is kind of the other end of the spectrum. These are agents that we carry around for a long time and that may have subtle effects on our cognition and behaviour”.

The groundbreaking research will help scientists understand how psychiatric diseases and cognitive degeneration arise, however, first the researchers need to piece together how the microbes infected the human host in the first place. ATCV-1 was something never imagined to affect humans and animals, and this is not just a question of swimmers being infected.

But does this really answer the question as to why people are stupid? Some are not convinced and believe there needs to be more tests. Neuroscientist Joram Feldon, noted that the cognitive effects were small however, but tells Science Mag that although the study was certainly innovative, ‘if you ask me if I am worried about the existence of this virus, I am not’.

tags: Virus | Science

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