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The Terrifying Zombie Fungus!! (The Girl With All The Gifts)

August 28, 2019


Bleurgh….I want to spread spores on you!! Hello and Welcome to ScienceSheWrote, the show where I discuss awesome things to do with science and the human body! I’m finally shooting another video in another bedroom! Those of you who’ve watched my previous videos know that I’ve had to move house twice in two months which is quite stressful and tiring but I’m filming two videos today so keep your eye out for the second video which should be coming out in the next week ….or so! And that one will be on menstrual cups! Today’s video was actually inspired by a book that I’ve recently read and that book is ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ by M.C. Carey…Carey .. however you pronounce the surname. And I know this book came out a few years ago 2014 to be exact not that long ago I tend to buy all my books from charity shop so things tend to take a while to show up there. The movie was out recently I don’t think it’s still in the cinemas if you did see it let me know in the comments below whether is any good! Just to give my mini review on the book I did like this book particularly the beginning and the end I thought were really good but the middle…. It centers around the premise that humanity’s been wiped out but not by a virus or bacteria but by a fungi. The fungi in this book which is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is the same one that creates those creepy looking monsters in the last of us which is why I didn’t get very far in that game because they freaked me the fudge out! In this book individuals infected with the fungus are attracted to the pheromone signals of non-infected individuals. This sends their hunger cravings and to overdrive kind of like me when I get the scent of pizza and they subsequently, well, eat people. This gives a book a very kind of zombie apocalypse feel to it. However, there are a group of children who whilst being infected with the fungus seem to retain human-like qualities like the ability to communicate and express emotion. But still you don’t want to get too close to them. Whilst of course zombie apocalypses are fictional, you may be surprised to find out that the fungus creating the zombies in…. (I got him) You may be surprised to find out that the fungal pathogen in the book is actually very real. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is also known as the zombie fungus and is found in the rainforests of Thailand and Brazil. Like all members of the Cordyceps family it’s an entomopathogen which means infects insects. In the case of the zombie fungus, it infects Carpenter ants. What’s scary about this pathogen and probably the reason why the author chose to use it, is that instead of just infecting its host and breaking down the tissue to kill it it actually changes the behaviour of the host. Once infected with the fungus, the fungal cells release chemicals that act on the ants brain changing its behaviour. It causes the ant to leave its nest and climb up vegetation to seek an environment that is suitable for growth of the fungus. This is typically the underside of a leaf where the ant will then bite down onto the vein of a leaf in what’s known as the ‘Death Grip!’. As the fungus grows it consumes the internal tissue of the ant, eventually bursting through the head where it can the release its spores and infect more unwitting ants. Now you might think that such a horrifying fungal pathogen might serve no good purpose however like other naturally occurring horrors such as Devil’s Breath, we might be able to extract substances which have medicinal benefit. For example, during the fungal life cycle, whilst it’s infecting the poor ant, it produces antimicrobials to help fight off other invading pathogens. The immunosuppressive drug Cyclosporine was isolated from another member of the Cordyceps family, and is used in organ transplants to help prevent rejection. Members of the Cordyceps family could even help treat cancer. Cordycepin, a compound common to the Cordyceps genus, has been shown to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in laboratory culture. It also shows anti-inflammatory effects and could soon be used in human trials to treat osteoarthritis. But of course this doesn’t really help the poor ant who are having these big fungal hyphae bursting out their head! But nature itself might be helping out our little ant friends! There actually exists a fungal pathogen which is known to infect the zombie fungus and for this reason it’s called the anti-zombie fungus fungus and as this is a parasite infecting another parasite it’s known as a hyperparasite! This hyperparasite attaches to and destroys much of the zombie fungus preventing it from releasing more spores. And this just goes to show that even the most badass of pathogens could potentially be out bad-assed by nature! Given the fact that humans inhale millions of spores every single day, the question you’re probably asking yourself is could the zombie fungus infect humans? Whilst there are many zoonoses, which are infectious pathogens that passed from animals to humans, it’s very unlikely that the zombie fungus will pass from ants to humans. So you can sleep easy knowing that the zombie apocalypse won’t be caused by a fungus ….but I’m sure there are always plenty of other things!

6 Comments

  • Reply Beverley Butterfly November 16, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    I love how you explain things so easy to understand and funny! I missed your videos hope you can settle down now and update more. I started using a menstrual cup because of your video and I'm still trying to use it without a little overflow….hope the next update helps me. Thanks again

  • Reply Chris B November 16, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Very interesting topic. I'll have to read that book. I love it when someone takes an established genre and adds a new twist to it. I recently watched one of those David Attenborough nature documentaries on this fungus. It is creepy and cool at the same time.

  • Reply JaffaCakeGecko November 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    I'd heard of the fungus making "zombie ants" but had no idea there was something counteracting it, so cool!

  • Reply o0Melyanna0o November 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    That's the plot of a book or film right there: "humans experiment with cordyceps to fight cancer and end up creating a human compatble variation and ultimately making zombies".

    Glad you are back! Hopefully you won't need to move again. 🙂

  • Reply TheEciFrog November 26, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    ! love that book, but had no idea it had any roots in reality!

  • Reply GetALifeCoachToo January 14, 2017 at 3:18 am

    I did watch the movie. And the middle was boring for sure. I didn't know it was a book. I totally watching the movie because the description was intriguing. Thanks for the science info, too. I'm adding the book to my reading list.

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