The zombie mushroom from “The Last of Us” is real; know if it can cause a pandemic

posted on 01/18/2023 06:00

(credit: HBO Max/Disclosure)

new HBO series, The Last of Us won over fans around the world with just one episode, introducing viewers to what it would be like if the world went through a pandemic caused by a fungus that can control human behavior. What some admirers of the show – launched on Sunday (15/1) – don’t know is that the alternative reality created by the authors is not that far away. Starting with the zombie mushroom that wreaked havoc in the TV production – it’s real and has existed on Earth for at least 48 million years.

The production was inspired by the series Planet Earthin 2006, in which one of the episodes produced by biologist David Attenborough brought the furious power of the mushroom to the screen Ophiocordyceps unilateral, commonly called zombie mushroom because it has the power to control the behavior of its hosts. It was discovered in 1859 by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

In real life, so far, the fungus only makes victims in the animal world, especially the carpenter ants, of the tribe componutus they live in America, Europe and Africa – but, in theory, climate change could cause the virus to undergo an evolutionary process and become a human pathogen, i.e. a fungus capable of getting sick and “possessing” human beings.

If such an evolution were to occur, humans could be preparing for a natural apocalypse of the darkest: the modus operandi of the mushroom ranges from silently possessing the victim’s body to exploding the insect’s head to releasing multiple outbreaks of the mushroom into the environment where it will die.

The series does not exaggerate when it places the fungus as a possible exterminator of human beings. This is because in order to infect people, the parasite would have to adapt to the high temperatures of the human body, which is not possible today, since the difference between forests and the interior of people is great. therefore, the Ophiocordyceps unilateral he prefers ectothermic animals, which are unable to get warm.

history of evolution

Such an evolution has already occurred in the history of the Earth. In 2019, researchers Arturo Casadevali and Vincent Robert discovered that a disease caused by a fungus in 2009 is a consequence of the first fungus to evolve into a human pathogen, the candida auris. The parasitic organism is the result of climate change, which has warmed the forests where it is found and made it more easily adapted in mammals: first in birds, then in humans.

Responsible for fever, chills and pains until the death of the infected, the candida auris it does not possess mind control powers, such as the mushroom’s The Last of Us. Which means that, perhaps, the fungus of the show is just waiting for humans to continue degrading the planet to take over for good.

Zombie ant producers: knowing the modus operandi of fungus in insects

In an emergency, don’t say the Mail did not advise “symptoms” of how to get rid of zombie infection. Here is a step by step guide on how Ophiocordyceps unilateral work on victims

Once installed in the ant, which is usually captured by the Ophiocordyceps unilateral when it walks on the forest floor, the fungus goes through a silent incubation period, during which none of the insect’s “relatives” realize that its life is about to end. During this time, the parasite spreads throughout the body and begins to spread through the insect’s hemocoel – a kind of main artery in the body.

Present in crucial pathways of the ant organism, the fungus begins, through an extended phenotype, to manipulate the behavioral patterns exhibited by the insect: stop following other ants in group activities, stop feeding and have seizures.

This last feature, among other things, is used by the fungus to bring the ant to the “cemetery”: the carpenter lives in the tops of the trees and is dropped by the fungus, through convulsions and gait control, onto the forest floor . the pursuit of Ophiocordyceps unilateral It is a plant with powerful nutrients for mushroom growth.

Once the fungus detects a “juicy” leaf, it causes the ant to use its mandibles with “abnormal force” to attach itself to the object. From the moment mating takes place, the ant loses control of its jaw and movements: a 2019 study, conducted by the University of Florida, indicates that the mushroom has a high power on the insect’s muscles.

In temperate climates, such as Brazil, the ant clings to nourishing branches. In both places – plant or branch – the insect’s mating leaves marks. A fossil of a leaf was found in the Messel pit in Germany with the same markings. The artifact has been dated as existing 48 million years ago, which shows the longevity of the fungus.

Once attacked and with new fungal cells ready to be dispersed into the environment, the fungus kills the ant and takes full control of the host. Then, between the head and the body of the ant, a new organism begins to be born, for the external part, a sort of “bundle” of mushrooms.

This bag, after 4-10 days of “possession”, is released into the environment through the explosion of the ant’s head and of the bag itself. The victim’s body is left in the graveyard, where many more are seen.

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