New brain-altering parasite discovered

Press/Media: Research cited


A new species of brain-altering parasite has been discovered in Hampshire by University of Portsmouth scientists.

A study led by marine biologist Dr Alex Ford found that amphipod shrimps in Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth, were infected with worm-like parasites that changed the shrimps’ behaviour to make them swim into the light, where they were more likely to be eaten by birds. The new species – which has not yet been named – is a type of parasite that lives inside a succession of hosts before eventually being consumed by birds. The parasite’s eggs are then expelled in the birds’ faeces, allowing a whole new life cycle to begin.

The research, published in Parasitology journal, showed that a hormone, serotonin, produced during the infection made the shrimp want to swim away from darkness and towards light. Scientists are still investigating whether the serotonin is produced by the parasite or if the parasite’s physical presence alters the shrimp’s brain chemistry.

The study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), mapped the population of the shrimp in the harbour over 18 months, identifying the parasite as a previously unreported species. According to Dr Ford, of the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences, this is only the second trematode species recorded that manipulates the behaviour of its shrimp host. The parasite’s presence was shown by the study to have a dramatic effect on the shrimp population.

Period25 Aug 2015 → 26 Aug 2015

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