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A single gene in a caterpillar virus sends its victims running for the treetops, where they die and their bodies liquefy, sending an ooze of virus particles on their brothers and sisters below.
This species of baculovirus infects only gypsy moth caterpillars, essentially turning them into zombies.
It stops the caterpillars from molting and sends them up into the tree leaves during the day (a behavior they normally save for the cover of darkness), where they die among the leaves as they wait to molt.
"They die there, and then they melt within hours after they die, and they are dripping virus down onto the leaves below," said study researcher Kelli Hoover, of Pennsylvania State University. "We knew before that this behavior benefits the virus, but we didn't know how it was causing the behavior."
The gene, named egt, interferes with the caterpillar's molting hormone and seems to play a role in the caterpillar's urge to climb.
They discovered this amazing property by infecting caterpillars with a normal baculovirus and the same virus lacking the egt gene. The caterpillars infected with the virus that didn't have egt died at the bottom of specially made enclosures (tall soda bottles) meant to mimic their natural environments.
Those caterpillars infected with the virus containing egt died clinging to the top of the bottles, with little chance of spreading the virus to siblings since that would mean others would have to walk over a puddle of goo to get infected.
Not only does the virus send the caterpillars crawling upward, it also stops them from molting, which is a major help to the virus since molting caterpillars don't eat, don't grow, and therefore produce less virus-containing goo.
Each drop of caterpillar goo contains millions of viruses.
"Who knew that a virus could change the behavior of its host?"
"Maybe this is why we go to work when we have a cold."
So it kinda makes you wonder ,could the human species ever be affected by a virus like this one