While swabbing for DNA for an unrelated study, scientists accidentally stumbled upon a virus called ATCV-1. It was present in the throats of 44 percent of the 92 adults tested. The virus itself isn’t new, but this is the first time it’s been detected in humans. What’s more is that those that tested positive for the virus also showed a slight decrease in score in a battery of cognitive tests, including scoring seven to nine points lower on a standardized I.Q. test.
It’s important to note that no expansive research has been done into this phenomenon, and correlation does not equal causation. More research will be needed to definitively establish a link. Interestingly, as reported by ABC News,
When the Nebraska researchers injected the virus into the digestive systems of mice, same thing. The rodents blundered around mazes, appeared flummoxed by new toys and seemed oblivious to new entry ways in and out of their cages. In short, they acted a tiny bit stupider than the average mouse.
Also, the researchers tested for other factors impacting the difference, such as “sex, education level, income, race, and even cigarette smoking” (Newsweek). It definitely merits further research. For example, they’re not quite sure how the virus infects human hosts, or whether it is contagious. Professor James L. Van Etten of the University of Nebraska told Newsweek that “little is currently known about how the virus could be transmitted to humans in such abundance, but that they had “’no reason to believe that [the viruses] are contagious among people or animals.'”
This new finding is also leading to an important discussion in how microorganisms might be affecting us in undiscovered ways. From the Independent:
Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: ‘This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition. 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 fuelled by the various microorganisms we harbour and the way they interact with our genes.’
It will be interesting to see how future research pans out.