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Could the zombie fungus from 'The Last of Us' ever really exist ?

By T.K. Randall
February 14, 2023 · Comment icon 28 comments

Could 'The Last Of Us' ever happen for real ? Image Credit: Pixabay / TomaszProszek
Could a fungus 'zombify' humans and bring about the end of the world like in the hit game and TV show ?
'The Last of Us', which premiered a few weeks ago on HBO, follows the story of Joel and Ellie - two survivors of a post-apocalyptic world dominated by zombies infected with a mutant fungus.

The show, which is based on the hit video game of the same name, presents a disaster scenario that offers a unique twist on the 'zombie virus' concept that is more typical of this type of setting.

But could a fungus really turn people into zombies and bring about the end of the world ?

Scientific American recently spoke to Tom Chiller - chief of the Mycotic Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - about this very possibility.

Thankfully, though, he was highly skeptical of the idea that such a scenario could ever happen for real.
"It's far-fetched," he said. "That's just not going to happen."

The show mentions an actual real-life 'zombie' fungus - Ophiocordyceps unilateralis - that can hijack the body of an ant, seemingly proving the idea that fungus can infect and take over a host.

According to Chiller, however, this fungus would have taken a very long time to evolve and insects are far more basic creatures than humans with simpler internal organs and a lower body temperature.

There are no known examples capable of infecting mammals.

In all likelihood, evolving the means with which to infect humans would probably take millions of years.

In other words, we won't be seeing clickers or shamblers in the real-world anytime soon.

Source: Scientific American | Comments (28)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #19 Posted by Jon the frog 1 year ago
Funny to get rabbies nope... funny to think that no sickness can alter the mind or focussing only on cordycep to try to prove a points,  yep.
Comment icon #20 Posted by Silver_Raven 1 year ago
The fungus in The Last of Us is a cordyceps, a variety of parasitic fungus that controls it's host's behavior, so yes, it does exist, but no, it hasn't developed the ability to work on humans, yet. Cordyceps use their host to get into optimal position to spore, so if a human was infected, they'd seek out a high place like a building or mountain. Getting violent would just hinder it's ability to reproduce. If you think about it, while it's not as exiting as the game, it's more terrifying. By the time we find the husks of the infected, we'd all be incubating spores. Now, however, if it was bioen... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Jon the frog 1 year ago
The interview come from the series.
Comment icon #22 Posted by Abramelin 1 year ago
It was by a parasite: Toxoplasmosis gondii:
Comment icon #23 Posted by Sir Wearer of Hats 1 year ago
Thanks Abe!
Comment icon #24 Posted by joc 1 year ago
The original question was a Nonsense Question.  Nonsense Questions beg nonsense answers. Those who take nonsensical questions and try to answer them logically are wrong 100% of the time.
Comment icon #25 Posted by Alchopwn 1 year ago
Or hallucinate supernatural beings...
Comment icon #26 Posted by geminigal 1 year ago
Scientists aren't entirely sure how cordyceps is able to have the effect that it does on insects, although there are theories. "There seems to be some combination of physical manipulation of muscle fibers, for example, possibly growth into the brain itself, that can impact its behavior," he said. "But there's also very likely some sort of chemical attack on the host, either small molecules, or proteins or some other things, that end up manipulating brain behavior." And it's possible that a fungus with similar mind-control capabilities could, at some point, be able to withstand a human's body t... [More]
Comment icon #27 Posted by Piney 1 year ago
From what I read mammalian biology is too sophisticated and evolution is a blind hit that takes the path of least resistance making something like cordyceps evolving to infect humans almost impossible.  
Comment icon #28 Posted by Still Waters 1 year ago
Could the zombie fungus from 'The Last of Us' ever really exist ? I sure hope not!  I've watched 4 episodes so far.

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