People infected with a parasite found in cat poo are more likely to have entrepreneurial spirit — and one in five Australians has it.

Researchers in America have found an association between Toxoplasma gondii infection and an increase in risk-taking behaviours and decrease in fear of failure by combining data from university students, business professionals, and global databases.

They say it emphasises the ‘hidden’ role of parasites as potential drivers of behaviour and economic outcomes.

T. gondii infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide — either through exposure through a cat’s droppings, eating undercooked meat or, less commonly, through exposure in utero — and has been linked to a host of behaviours in the past, from substance abuse to suicide.

Using cats as its primary host, the parasite’s effect on mouse behaviour is well documented.

As its best means for survival is in cats, T.gondii will travel to the amygdala part of the brain of a mouse after infection and change its behaviour in order to make it more easy to eat.

Mice with T.gondii infection are more adventurous and become attracted to the smell of cat urine.

Professor Justine Smith, from Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health, has been studying T.gondii for 15 years and said it most commonly caused eye infection in human hosts.

But a change in behaviour was plausible.

“There are multiple studies that show an association between Toxoplasma gondii infection and a number of conditions, including schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even risky behaviours like not wearing a helmet,’’ she said.

“This new study is intriguing but you always want to replicate a finding like this. Also, people who are higher risk takers may be more likely to be exposed to Toxoplasma in the first place because they may be more likely to risk eating rare meat, for example.

“But we know bugs affect us. Not just Toxoplasma but also the microbiome and a whole range of viruses, there are all sorts of microorganisms that can affect us.”

Local entrepreneur Amy Orange, founder and director of social enterprise Harvest Fair which aims to use “the power of good food to advance gender equity”, has had Scottish Fold Baloo for two years, so it’s unlikely he is the source of her entrepreneurial spirit.

However, having owned cats since she was a child, she’s not ruling out the possibility that an earlier moggy might be responsible.

“I guess anything’s possible,’’ the 33-year-old laughed.

“I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker and have pushed the boundaries. And Baloo is a real character, he teases our two beagles and is pretty cheeky. Although, to be fair, he is full of bravado but when it comes to the crunch he runs off.”