Ripped From the Headlines: Fungal Zombies

News of an Esoterror bioscience expedition sends the investigators on a jaunt to the Brazilian rain forest, where they encounter the usual horrors of nature at its most fecund and ferocious.

After a red-herring encounter with corporate forces intent on leveling the rainforest for beef production, they catch up with their quarry and find them studying fungal infections that turn ants into zombies. They discover a fungal formulation, manipulated by an Outer Dark Entity able to change organisms on the DNA, that will launch a human zombie plague. It can’t induce a global extinction event, but it can certainly spawn enough panic to thin the membrane between realities worldwide.

One Response to “Ripped From the Headlines: Fungal Zombies”

  1. Nook Harper says:

    A couple of years ago I asked a friend of mine with a PHD in micro biology if fungal zombies were possible. Here’s his response
    (14 August 2009 at 06:51) dear nook there is actually a fungus that causes a sort of zombified state in ants.
    however, i will assume that for this question, you are referring to a) something affecting humans, and b) something capable of animating ‘dead’ tissue rather than just forcing a behaviour from living? in contrast to viruses, an infecting fungus would likely live outside the host cells. and rather than comendeering the functions of the host to reproduce as a virus would, fungi (as a chemo-organotrophs) would simply be using the host cell as a source of food to support their growth. so in some respects, a zombie caused by a fungus, would be able to suffer far more in the way of host tissue degradation (rot) since the fungus would not require the host cells to be ‘active’ and kept intact in order to reproduce. i suspect a fungus zombie would not be one of the best looking living dead and vampires wouldn’t invite them to parties..
    why then would a fungus ‘want’ to produce a state of zombification? well in the case of the ant, it’s all about getting the normally ground dwelling ant into the right place for the fungi to release spores. if we assume that rather than moving a live ant host, a true zombie fungus needs to animate an already dead host, the fungus would either have to keep host systems intact (which would prevent it from being able to use them as a food source) or be able to force movement from the dead body itself. a bit like waking a sleeping teenager..
    we could imagine therefore, fungal mycelia attaching through bones and growing to form a sort of new muscle-like structure to the host. this would ‘free up’ the host tissue as food to power the fungus. this presents a point of initial attack for the fungus being the tendons of the body (where muscle attaches to bone) rather than the nervous system as is so often presented in the case of zombie viruses. indeed, the host neural tissue may be of no significant consequence to zombie fungi at all other than providing more food. a fungus zombie might therefore walk around saying ‘tendooons… TENDOOONS…’ a lot. unless it really does want to just have something to eat.. in which case a call for brains might be heard. if this is the case, then the fungus zombie would be even more ‘brain dead’ than the virus zombie and may even have no brain at all. and so the classic way of killing a virus zombie (removing the head or destroying the brain) would do little to stop a fungus zombie. hacking to bits, fire or athlete’s foot powder, may be better alternatives.
    to move a corpse, a fungus would need to be able to exert a biomechanical force. fungi do move fluid around their mycelia and can react in a chemotacsis way to outside stimulus, changing their course of growth to suit. but it does happen very very slowly compared to living animal tissue. a fungus zombie may therefore be really really slow.. too slow in fact to actually catch a living and even slightly alert animal. it may be able to catch another corpse, but since it would probably be less complex just to grow over to the new host rather than force the old host to walk over, one is left wondering why a zombie fungus would need to animate a corpse just to hunt other corpses. one possible recourse for the fungus zombie could be that it might ‘hunt’ via it’s spores. a fungus zombie could walk about as slowly as it likes just releasing spores into the environment to cause further infection.the zombification factor in such a senario however again seems an over complification to an otherwise simple process. if we assume therefore that the zombie fungus can move with at least some speed (enough to catch really chilled out people..) we would also have to conclude that the fungi would need more energy and so use up its host food supply pretty fast. a fungus zombie could therefore be more like the fruiting body of the fungus, coming out at night for a few nights (maybe in little rings?) and probably also releasing spores to maximise its spread while physically catching those who mistake it for a magic mushroom and are too wacked and slow to get away?
    so to summerise: a fungus zombie would be a shambling, rotting, short-lived sort of monster, outcast by other monsters for leaving rotting foot prints on the carpet. a packed lunch for a brain, surrounded by infectious air, difficult to stop but easy to run away from, drooling for conective tissue and maybe more brains only when not watching it’s figure, infecting people with spores.. and hunting stoners.. hope this helps?
    Fungal parasite turns ants into zombies

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