When Sana Hamelin opened up a combination cat cafe and rescue in 2014, little did she know she could have done so involuntarily, her mind usurped by microorganisms years prior to now coercing her better judgement to take risks she normally wouldn’t have.
It’s name Toxoplasma gondii, a tricky little bastard that lives inside of cat shit that turns humans who come in contact with it into entrepreneurs
Yeah way. The concept is part of a new discovery, one made by researchers from the University of Colorado that links entrepreneurial behavior to kitty dump. More specifically, the data links this productive trait to parasites that infect humans who empty litter boxes and/or otherwise interact with their feline friend’s nuggets.
"As humans, we like to think that we are in control of our actions," says Pieter Johnson in a University of Colorado press release. He’s the co-lead author of the study and a professor in CU Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "But emerging research shows that the microorganisms we encounter in our daily lives have the potential to influence their hosts in significant ways."
The study — which the researchers published in the "Proceedings for the Royal Society B" — describes how humans infected with Toxoplasma gondii had noticeably higher interest in business related activities and a higher likelihood of getting involved with entrepreneurial behavior.
To be exact, out of a sample size of 1,495 undergraduate students, they found that infected individuals were 1.4 times more likely to major in business, 1.7 times more likely to have an emphasis on “management and entrepreneurship” and (among professionals also interviewed for the study) 1.8 times more likely to start their own business than non-infected individuals.
Now, before faceplanting into the nearest litterbox, let’s just make something clear: these findings did not correlate T. gondii to business success, only to business interest — and interestingly, a lesser fear of failure.
“We don't know if the businesses started by T.gondii-positive individuals are more likely to succeed or fail in the long run," clarifies Stefanie K. Johnson, an associate professor at CU's Leeds School of Business and the lead author of the study. "New ventures have high failure rates, so a fear of failure is quite rational. T.gondii might just reduce that rational fear."
That seems legit. But why, in the name of all that is good and natural in this world, would a parasite from cat crap want to reduce an animal’s fear instinct?
For the same reason any living creature does anything on this planet: to reproduce. The parasite infects its hosts selectively, in hopes they will be killed and eaten by a feline, within which it can propagate.
It’s a disturbing concept, when you think about it: that a trait as valuable as entrepreneurship might be cultivated by unknown stowaways that have infected your body. And T. gondii isn’t the only microorganism known to do this.
Take for instance Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (the “zombie fungus”) that infects ants with spores, hijacks their brains and causes them to frantically climb upwards into trees where mushrooms explode out of their heads — killing them and re-releasing spores to shower down upon other ants below.
These things exist. And, apparently, they already exist within us affecting actions, moods and daily habits. Humans are the carriers of trillions of microorganisms, after all, ourselves a microcosm of life. How many of them are affecting our character?
Enough to make entrepreneurs out of a few of us, at the very least.
"I've always been a risk taker," admits Hamelin, the owner of the Denver Cat Company. Adding, "I don't know if I am a carrier or not, though. I have never been tested, so it's hard to say. But if cats somehow helped me start my business, I'm all for it — I love them for it."