Saturday, September 10, 2011

Parasitic Effects

I have seen a few things on the web recently that deal with the weird ways that some parasites hijack a host to reproduce.

There is some fungus that makes caterpillars climb high into trees where the die and liquify, dripping fungal spores down onto more leaves for more caterpillars to ingest.

There is some other parasite that makes ants climb to the top of grass stalks so that they are eaten by sheep, the other host in the parasites life-cycle.

And there is Toxoplasma gondii.  It makes rats attracted to the smell of  cat urine, so that they frequent places their predators are.

All this then jumped in my mind to the studies of how onloine games like Zynga's Farmville are highly addictive, providing an endorphin hit every time the player clicks the mouse.

For the first time on Earth, we have a large group of beings actively searching out the quirks of human biology and psychology, looking for things that they can hijack to sell their goods.  This concerns me - how long before someone finds the perfect combination of sights, sounds and smells that will allow them to induce the desired behavior in another person?

Until now, the search was limited by the blind chance randomness of mutations - if a hack evolved, it would survive, but the parasites were not actively seeking weaknesses in the behavioral armor of their hosts.