Sickly Stupid

Virus Makes Us Dumb and Dumber

Georgina Hartono (Staff Writer)


Have you ever written 2+4=8 on a calculus test? Don’t feel bad. Everyone has done it. In fact, I did that just last week. However, instead of blaming ourselves, we may have a new culprit to blame: the stupidity virus. No, it’s not alcohol. Called ATCV-1, it impairs cognitive performance, learning and memory. In other words, this virus has the ability to make dummies out of us all.

While conducting an unrelated experiment about microbes in the human throat, researchers from John Hopkins University in Maryland and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the virus that was present in the DNA of 40 of the 92 healthy adults participating in the study. Known to attack green algae in lakes and rivers, this was the first time the virus has been found in humans. The scientists concluded that ATCV-1 is correlated to the decrease of cognitive performance as the study participants who
tested positive for the virus performed, on average, 7 to 9 points lower on IQ tests than participants who are not infected. In addition, the researchers, led by virologist and pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Yolken from John Hopkins Medical School, confirmed that the presence of the virus led to lower attention span and decrease in visual processing and visual motor speed. Yolken adds, “This is a striking example showing that the innocuous microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition.”

In order to further support their conclusion, researchers injected infected algae into mice before making them perform various sets of lab tests. They have concluded that the infected rodents’ results were underwhelming as it took them 10% more time to manoeuvre themselves out of the maze than healthy rats. In addition, they were confused by the presence of new toys and spent 20% less time exploring the new objects in their cages. Their poor performance in these tests proves that the presence of ACTV-1 weakens the brain’s ability to function at an optimal level in rats, as well as
humans.

Despite these ground-breaking discoveries, the research is still in the early development stages. The team of scientists still needs to determine if the virus is contagious between humans. Senior author of the study Dr. James L. Van Etten confirms, “Currently one of our efforts is to determine if the virus can replicate in either human or animal cells.” They also have to conclude how the algae virus was able to cross over from freshwater to humans. Dr. Etten adds, “My best guess is that these viruses may infect another microorganism besides the algae that we have been studying. This other microorganism may be the way that the virus gets into the throat.”

Since this hypothesis has yet to be confirmed and various other questions have to be answered, it can take years before a cure and appropriate treatment is developed. Instead of passively waiting for science to save the day yet again, we should all just work harder prior to our next calculus test.