Neuro-parasitology is an emerging branch of science that deals with parasites that can control the brain of the host. The ability of parasites to alter the behavior of their hosts has recently generated an unusual interest in both scientists and non-scientists. One reason is that parasites alter the behavior of their host in such a way as to suggest a hijacking of their ability to make decisions or free will.
However, how parasites manipulate their hosts is not an esoteric topic, fascinating merely because it evokes gruesome zombie movies involving body snatchers. Although our understanding of the neural mechanisms of parasitic manipulation is still lacking, there have been some major advances over the past few years. Since most animals are insects, it is not surprising that many case studies of animals that are manipulated by parasites are insects.
Prof. Frederic Libersat (pictured above) of BGU's Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Prof. David Hughes of the Departments of Entomology and Biology at Pennsylvania State University published a review that focuses on mind control in Parasite–Insect Associations. The diversity of parasites that can manipulate insect behavior ranges from viruses to worms and also includes other insects that have evolved to become parasites. By integrating different approaches from natural history to advanced imaging techniques, omics, and experiments, the authors provide new insights into the neuronal mechanisms of such manipulation.
The review was just published in the Annual Review of Entomology . Libersat is also a member of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.