Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Could a Fungus Start the Zombie Apocalypse?

The phrase, "zombie ants" trended on Yahoo yesterday, as a new study provided details on how the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis controls its victims. For those unfamiliar with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, it is a fungus that propagates itself by infecting ants, filling the ant's brain with fungal cells, and then manipulating the ant's muscles so that it bites down on a leaf and doesn't let go until it dies. From here, the fungus can infect the leaf and therefore infect a new ant that eats the leaf. The fungus seems to use environmental cues to guide its infection of the ants, as the ants collectively bite down a leaves at noon, and die at sundown.

After learning of this study, the staff here at Burning Questions began to wonder if a fungus would be able to work similarly in humans, and thus cause the zombie apocalypse. Fungi that manipulate host behavior are found in other organisms, such as wasps, bees and crickets, and are thought to infect spiders as well.

However, my research has found that while this is certainly possible, the fungi would have to evolve over several thousand, maybe even millions of years. As the zombie apocalypse is imminent, it is likely that a virus will cause the zombie outbreak before a fungus ever gets a chance to. This is because of the fundamental differences in the way viruses and fungi work; multiply rapidly and have a high mutation rate, allowing them to evolve quickly. Fungi do not multiply as rapidly as viruses, meaning they do not evolve as rapidly, therefore they would be less likely to turn the human brain into mush before viruses can. It is likely that rabies will evolve to turn humans into carnivorous beasts before Ophiocordyceps unilateralis ever evolves to infect humans.

8 comments:

  1. Ellie, I would like to point out the data pointing to yeast infections as a possible start to Zombiism. Your argument is very valid, however, I will still proceed to stock up on Monistat and bread machines.

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  2. Very good point Clarisse, I didn't think of that. Feel free to write a counter argument. However, if yeast infections evolve to start the zombie apocalypse, they're probably also going to evolve a Monistat resistance, hate to break it to you.

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  3. How does it feel to be the star of the best video game of the year?

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    1. More proud than words can detail.

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  4. Heh, this is amazing. Who'd have imagined what this post was unknowingly leading into... :D

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  5. zombies could be a thing, there is a type of fungi called cordyceps, which at the moment only effect insects, but there nothing to say they cant spred to humans like other viruses and fungis did. this fungi controls the insects brian and grows on the until the insect finally dies, there is your zombie. but there isno need to worry, its not definate this will happen, and if it does happen there are procedures and plans set up by the goverment incase a pandemic like this ever happened.

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