So, being the nerd I am – I’m watching a video on the Cordyceps fungi, hosted by David Attenborough (Ed.: go, go listen to David Attenborough’s soothing smart-voice – go, then come back). The cordyceps fungus invades the bodies of specific insect species (each fungi is specific to insect), and actually “controls” them. The purpose of the total control of the mind of the insect is to raise the fungus to a proper altitude and temperature for it to gestate – and better chance for it’s spores to infect other insects. I mean, come on – blow my nerd mind, or what. Awesome – a mind controlling fungus – sweet.
Just so happens, though – I was also reading my The Walking Dead compendium. And then it hit me: what a TOTALLY feasible cause of an actual zombie apocalypse. Sure, I’m taking some liberty in assuming that the fungus would have to go through a transmission evolution – but other than that – it’s TOTALLY feasible. So – let’sa go!
“So – Robo, what would have to change?”
Lets take care of the assumption I’m making: the transmission evolution.
The Transmission Evolution:
Fungi spread by spores. Think of them like little, tiny, seeds – much like a tree spreads…but it’s fungi. But instead of growing in soil, like plants do, fungi grow IN other living organisms, mostly plants. They invade the host and replace living tissue with it’s own. It grows, living off the host, and spreads, via spores. Repeat cycle. In the cordyceps case – the spore grows inside an insect, slowly gaining “control” of the insect’s actions (Ed.: still sounds weird to say that, but seriously, watch the video). The cordyceps takes about 3 weeks to mature. The fungus then grows OUT of the insect’s body, where it releases it’s spores.
Think of the cordyceps cycle like this: Spores –> Infection –> Gestation –> Control –> Spores –> Repeat
So, let’s assume that there’s this fungus, right. And instead of growing out of the host body, it forms spore sacs in the mouth of it’s host. This fungus, much like cordyceps, would control the host. During the period of control, the fungus would direct the host to attack and “bite” another organism to spread spores. Biting would be an extremely effective method of spore transmission, as any direct route into the human system, such as cuts, scrapes, gashes, bites, etc – is necessary to fungal infection. The most dangerous form of fungal infections occur when humans inhale spores, currently – as it deposits them in the lungs, where they can be easily transferred to the blood stream and circulated.
“Thanks for the 3 minute botany lesson Robo – I want those 3 minutes back.”
Wait wait wait. But think of it like this: doesn’t that all sound vaguely familiar? I mean, aside from “dark horses” in the zombie phenomena, zombies are “infected” people, who “bite” and infect things, replicating the process, over and over. Zombies….fungi? Well, here’s my theory.
Fungi already infect humans – we mostly see it commonly as “jock itch”, “athlete’s foot”, and ringworm. These are fungal infections of the surface of the skin – very minor. The more concerning infections are the “inside” ones – where the spores have gone inside the organism, like cordyceps and insects. If there was a cordyceps-like fungus, that specifically attacked humans – much like specific cordyceps select specific species of insects, and it could control humans – all it would take is a transmission evolution to become exactly like zombies. Seriously.
Think about it – zombies bite people – deep. Watch all the movies, read all the books – when they bite – there’s some hell to pay. And ooooooooooohhhh the blood. It’s crazy. There’s no MORE direct route to the inside of a human like zombie bites, if I’ve learned anything. Now, imagine the mouth is where the fungus gestated – and produced spore sacs. When the zombie “bit” something – the sacs would break, releasing spores directly into the now massive hole that used to be your abdomen.
In your bloodstream, it would be free to travel to another part of your body – like, say, your brain and mouth. It could then replace brain matter, with it’s own – and slowly gaining control of the host organism’s (human) motor control (gestation period).
“Oh…I think I get it…zombies are dead right?”
Huh? Weren’t you even listening? Think about it – especially in modern pop culture – zombie-ism is thought to be a form of viral/bacterial/biological “control” of the host (human), and that infection is spread by direct fluid exchange. In my theory here – the fungus first slowly gains control of the host organism, while creating spore sacs in the mouth tissue. The fungus then directs the organism (human) to “shamble around” (Ed.: shambling around, because – come on – it’s fungus here. It’s like a mouse trying to pilot a fighter jet. Duh!), trying to find other living organisms of the same species (human) to “release it’s spores” into.
I mean, think about that cycle we just talked about:
Spores –> Infection –> Gestation –> Control –> Spores –> Repeat
How about we think of it like this:
Bite –> Infection (“Oooo, I don’t feel good.“) –> Gestation (“Yo, Frank’s dead, dude.“) –>
Control (“Wait, no he’s not.“) –> Bite (“Ahh fuck, Frank bit my face off!“)
Again – sound familiar? It should, because the two are interchangeable. I mean, it’s actually funny – when I think of it – how similar the two life-cycles really are. Suffice it to say, it’s at least a POSSIBILITY.
“Cindy, shoot Dad in the face before he turns!!!!!”
Haha. I’m not saying it’s actually a possibility – but in all honesty, it IS the most likely cause, in my opinion, if it were to happen. A virus would work too – but viruses are so last Friday – it’s all about mind controlling zombie fungus. That’s the new black. Or neon green. Or whatever the kids are into these days.
Disclaimer: while there is scientific basis in this article and it’s references, in no way should you buy a gun and board up your windows. This was written humorously, and if you’ve missed that – well…then yes. Please. Board yourself up in your house.
Special Edit for Deanne:
I would actually recommend, rather than me spending 8 days putting everyone through a ‘zombie survival: crash course’ – just go out and buy Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide – it will teach you all you need to know. BUT, I will inject my two cents:
In my opinion, during a zombie apocalypse – the most important factor a human can depend on, is their physical fitness, specifically in the areas of cardiovascular strength, agility, and stamina. Why do I say these, over say, muscular strength or wicked awesome eye sight? That’s because the LAST line of defense (and first, in my opinion) in response to a zombie attack, is to run. And run far, and for a long time. Remember, these are dead humans, coming to bite you in’twain – and they won’t stop. Never. They’ll just keep walking. Forever.
So while guns, katanas, and fire axes are good – when they’re all gone, all you’ll have is your awesome Kenyan Marathon Runner legs (or they better be). Here’s my rule of thumb: I don’t need to run super fast – I just need to be faster than YOU. And run for a long time. Period. So it would be in your best interests to get off the couch once in a while – even if it’s just to go buy more candy at the store. And in the summer – bike ride. It’s great for your heart and lungs (all exercise is – surprising, I know).
If you’re already rocking it out like Charlie Sheen with Adonis DNA in your legs – then ya, a gun and the know how to use the thing effectively, would be good (conserve your ammo).