Zombie fungus that inspired ‘The Last of Us’ is real?

Zombie fungus that inspired ‘The Last of Us’ is real?

The Last of Us was recently adapted from the video game into a TV show produced by HBO and released in January 2023.

At the core of the show and the video game is a fungus from genus Cordyceps At the core of the show and the video game is a fungus from genus Cordyceps

The Last of Us is an American post-apocalyptic themed action-adventure video game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony back in 2013. The game follows the story of Joel and Ellie, two survivors of a fungi-zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us has been praised for its story, characters, and exploration, and has won numerous awards for its storytelling.

The Last of Us was recently adapted into a TV show produced by HBO and released on HBO Max in January 2023. It stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie. In India, you can watch the show on Disney+ Hotstar.

Now at the core of the show and the video game is a fungus from genus Cordyceps that has led to a zombie-like apocalypse situation where the human mind is easily controlled by it. The mind-boggling part is that it exists in the real world among us.

Charissa de Bekker, an assistant biology professor at Utrecht University told CNN that humans do not have to worry about fungi (yet). As the fungi is very 'species specific' our human body is not a viable place for them. However, she warned that a mutation might happen in the future due to global warming. The premise of which is eerily similar to the show and video game.

“In a warming world, fungi also have to adapt to a warmer climate. And you can imagine then, if their optimal growth temperatures therefore become higher and closer to our body temperatures, it might be more likely that in the future, we have more fungal infections in humans than we see right now,” she told CNN.

More about the mind-controlling fungi

Ophiocordyceps fungi is a genus of parasitic fungi that infects and controls the behaviour of various insects, particularly ants. These fungi have been known to science since the 19th century, but have recently gained attention due to their unique and complex life cycle.

The life cycle of Ophiocordyceps fungi begins when the spores of the fungus land on an ant host. Once the spores have germinated, they begin to grow and spread throughout the ant's body. As the fungus grows, it begins to manipulate the ant's behaviour, eventually leading the ant to leave its colony and climb to the top of a nearby blade of grass or leaf.

Once the ant has reached the top of the blade of grass, the fungus takes complete control of the ant's body, causing it to bite down on the stem and die. After the ant has died, the fungus continues to grow, eventually forming a stalk that emerges from the ant's head. The stalk produces spores, which are then released into the environment, starting the cycle anew.

Ophiocordyceps fungi have been found in various regions of the world, including tropical forests in South America, Africa and Asia. Scientists have discovered over 500 (and counting) different species of Ophiocordyceps, each of which infects a specific species of ant.

The mechanism of how the fungus can control the behaviour of ants is still not well understood, but it is thought that the fungus produces chemicals that mimic the ants' own neurotransmitters, allowing it to manipulate the ant's nervous system.

The study of Ophiocordyceps fungi has implications in various fields such as entomology, mycology and even medicine. The fungus produces various bioactive compounds that have potential medicinal properties. Some studies have also shown that Ophiocordyceps could potentially be used as a biological control agent for controlling pest ants or even worse if the show is to be believed.

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Published on: Jan 28, 2023, 2:25 PM IST
Posted by: Pranav Dixit, Jan 28, 2023, 2:18 PM IST