SWU student to spend summer researching parasite
Brian Daniels, a Southern Wesleyan University student from Greenville, is spending his summer researching a parasite that is commonplace in the homes of cat lovers.
Daniels, who is a double major in integrative behavioral biology and English, is studying a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which causes a disease called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is best known for its danger to unborn fetuses if the mother comes into contact with toxoplasma during her pregnancy. Toxoplasma can only reproduce in the digestive tract of cats, so most humans contract an infection by coming into contact with cat feces. For this reason, pregnant women are told to avoid changing cat litter during their pregnancy.
The parasite doesn’t noticeably affect most people with a mature, intact immune system. In most humans, the parasite will lie dormant in muscle and brain tissue without any noticeable symptoms. But there are some indications that toxoplasma that is dormant in the brain can still have some cognitive effects. Daniels is looking at whether or not toxoplasma infection has an effect on the learning process.
His research is being funded through the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Student/Faculty Research Grant. Daniels will present his findings at a symposium in 2010.