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A parasite carried by cats and known to suppress fear may be the key driver behind the decisions of people infected by it to make bold moves, such as starting their own business, a new study has revealed.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that affects many warm-blooded animals, but cats are its only known definitive host, in which it can reproduce. The parasite is peculiar because it is known to suppress fear and encourage risk-taking in some animals like rats, who thus become more vulnerable to a preying cat.

The new research, published in the journal Proceeding of the Royal B, points to a similar effect Toxoplasma has on humans. The researchers found people with toxoplasmosis are more likely to have started their own business than non-infected people.

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The research was based on analysis of a group of some infected 1,500 students in the US and their preferred fields of study. They were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to have an emphasis in ‘management and entrepreneurship’ over other business-related endeavors, compared to the general population, the study found.

However, Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado and her colleagues warned against taking Toxoplasma gondii to be the secret weapon of tycoons. Those infected with Toxoplasmosis are also more at risk of “car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide,” they wrote.

Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic infections in humans, with more than 30 million affected in the US alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most carriers never develop symptoms indicating that they have the disease.

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The parasite can be caught through poorly-cooked food, while handling animals, especially cat excrement, or from mother to unborn baby. The latter case poses a serious risk to the child, since it can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

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