If we believe HBO’s zombie apocalypse series the last of us, The end of humanity comes in the form of an ominous form of Cordyceps, a fungus that attacks the brain.
Like all other horrors, the germ-destroyed wildlife on the show exists in the real world.
Cordyceps fungi are true indoor organisms in very hot and humid climates. They control the brains of ants as well as certain spiders, moths, grasshoppers and other arthropods, but thankfully not humans.
“The fungus attacks insects that live underground or in the soil,” said Rebecca Rosenghaus, an associate professor and behavioral ecologist at Northeastern University. “Ants are the same, but there are also grasshoppers, spiders, grasshoppers.”
It is the official name of Cordyceps. Ophiocordyceps unilateralisAnd yes, scientists “Zombie-ant fungusHe said. Humanity does not reveal its end, but it certainly gives a terrible end to the creatures it attacks.
Here’s how it works: An ant (or other arthropod) innocently emerges from its nest, happily unaware that Cordyceps spores are raining down from a nearby tree or trunk or branch in search of food.
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“The fungus basically steals the brain, so the ants stop doing what they’re doing and start doing what the fungus wants them to do, which is climb up the tree trunk,” Rosengaus said. After reaching the top of the tree, the ants bite into the stem or the leaf, known as the death grip.
“It’s the last thing they do before the fungus starts growing up the neck or the ant’s head,” Rosengaus said.
The ants die within six hours of being infected, then two to three days later, a The stem of the fungus emerges From the neck. Then, the spores start raining again and the cycle repeats.
That’s life, at least for arthropods.
“Like most organisms on the planet, it does what it needs to do to replicate and reproduce,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention and control at Yale School of Medicine.
Can this happen to humans?
the last of us It’s real life for ants but not for humans – at least not yet, Rosenghaus, even if she doesn’t rule it out. “The fact that we haven’t found a pathogen capable of hijacking our brains by developing this strategy doesn’t mean it won’t happen at some point.”
But for now, this is unlikely to happen in humans. “One reason for that is because people are warm-blooded,” Roberts said. “Most fungi and molds do not grow well in high temperature environments.” People with a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit are definitely hospitable.
“The show’s creators took a great time in nature and made it fictional,” Roberts added. “It’s a popular, great TV show, but it’s not a true representation or an accurate representation of what could have been.”
“I don’t think we should worry,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University. “A fungus is a much higher order than a virus, a more complicated germ than a virus, so the jump of this fungal species will be a very complicated event.”
Real life dangers
This does not mean that humans cannot be infected by organisms that normally infect other species.
“We have zoonotic infections,” Roberts said. Empox It is a good example. So does Covid-19, which comes from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “Often viruses and sometimes even fungi can be in another species and jump to other people, but it usually requires jumping back and forth. [between humans and animals]He said.
Climate change is bringing new threats, including new fungi. One is a The type of yeast called White ears.
of Body temperature adaptation to heat Now it is considered that it is the reason that has a better chance to live in the human body. (Because this is the last of us (Writers use cordyceps to explain why they infect humans.)
While White ears It crawls into your skin, can cause bloodstream infections and is often transmitted in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
“If you are healthy, it will stay on your skin and [even] Get out, but if you have lines and catheters and you have surgery, it can cause infections in the wounds,” Roberts said. These infections can spread not only to the bloodstream, but also to various organs such as the brain and heart.
“It’s a species of Candida that has come out with climate change,” Roberts said. Other fungi and molds can be adapted to survive and reproduce in warmer climates.
White earsIt was already recognized for the first time 10 years ago Resistance to many drugs. It also spreads from person to person unlike other types of mold or fungus, Roberts said.
Like most fungi, if healthy, White ears It is unlikely to cause any harm. If you are immunocompromised or otherwise in poor health, you can develop serious infections that can be life-threatening.
Separating fact from fiction
There’s another element that hijacks our minds these days: science fiction–even misinformation masquerading as truth.
As long as you notice the last of us And other shows are fiction, there is no harm.
“For decades, science fiction writers have taken basic ideas to extremes. That’s part of the fun,” Schaffner said. “While real science is incredibly rich and extraordinary, there are real biological limits, and this is one of them. When it comes to real life, listen to Public Health. We connect you to reality.
It’s not like we have to look for things to worry about. “If you ask me whether this fungus or SARS-CoV-2 is going to be the end of us, I’m going to say SARS a hundred times,” Roberts said.