My Hero

Jaroslav Flegr © National Geographic Magazine

Jaroslav Flegr © National Geographic Magazine

I have many heroes.

Charles Darwin, who against all odds published his evolution theory that changed biology for ever, or Aimé Bonpland, botanist, who made an unimaginable journey with Alexander von Humboldt (a hero himself) to the Amazons and Orinoco river in South America.

Aimé Bonpland © Wikipedia.org

Aimé Bonpland © Wikipedia.org

In these explorations he collected and classified about 60.000 plants that were, until then, mostly unknown in Europe! Where Humboldt gained great fame, Bonpland was forgotten.

Franz Junghuhn © Wikipedia.org

Franz Junghuhn © Wikipedia.org

He returned to South America, got trouble with local authorities and was detained. He died on the veranda of his hacienda in Argentina and afterward was stabbed by a passing gaucho because he didn’t return his greeting; something to be expected, from a man who already died.

I have many more heroes, like Charles Waterton, Alfred R. Wallace, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz and Franz Junghuhn who climbed all (100) volcanoes on the island of Java.

In a recent issue of National Geographic Magazine I found a new hero. His name is Jaroslav Flegr. In 1990 he found out that he was infected with Toxoplasma gondii. Where most people would be focused on recovery, he observed the symptoms instead. He got fascinated how the parasite jumped from cat to cat: it used rats. The “toxo” hijacks the rats’ brain, making the rat more active, less risk averse, even sexually attracted to the scent of cat urine. Flegr decided to explore: Maybe toxo was controlling his brain too. Colleagues told him he was crazy, but it turned out his hypothesis was right! Read the article from the National Geographic Magazine here.

Also highly recommended: “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” from The Atlantic of February 6 2012, by Kathleen Mcauliffe; click here to read.

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