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There's a Virus Lurking in Ponds That Could Be Making You Dumber

"This is quite rare and a total surprise."

A virus that commonly infects pond and lake algae was found in the throats of some humans as well. The virus was linked to poorer cognitive function in these individuals. (Image source: Kit Lee and Angie Fox, UNL)

A virus common in lakes and ponds was recently found in the throats of a significant percent of people in a small study and was actually be linked to impaired cognitive function.

A virus that commonly infects pond and lake algae was found in the throats of some humans as well. The virus was linked to poorer cognitive function in these individuals. (Image source: Kit Lee and Angie Fox, UNL) A virus that commonly infects pond and lake algae was found in the throats of some humans as well. The virus was linked to poorer cognitive function in these individuals. (Image source: Kit Lee and Angie Fox, UNL)

Researchers from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Johns Hopkins University, took swabs of healthy individuals for a cognitive study and identified chlorovirus ATCV-1 in the throats of nearly 44 percent of study participants.

The fact that the virus was there in the first place surprised researchers.

"Chloroviruses are worldwide," James Van Etten with UNL said in a statement. "They're very common among inland bodies of fresh water such as lakes and ponds. But I don't know of many examples of viruses jumping from one kingdom to another. If this turns out to be true, this is quite rare and a total surprise."

Continuing with the original cognitive study, the team found that those who had the DNA of the chloroviurs performed worse on tests that involved visual processing or special orientation, according to a news release about the research.

"This is a striking example showing that the 'innocuous' microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition," Robert Yolken with Johns Hopkins said. "Many physiological differences between person A and person B are encoded in the set of genes each inherits from parents, yet some of these differences are fueled by the various microorganisms we harbor and the way they interact with our genes."

To make sure there was an actual link between the virus DNA and poorer brain function, the team experimented with mice and found rodents inoculated with it exhibited similar cognitive issues.

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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