There's a Fungus Among Us

Much like “potentially finding Carolle Baskin’s first husband alive in Costa Rica”, “naturally occurring zombie apocalypse” wasn’t on our bingo card for 2023. Is it likely to happen?  Let’s just say it’s less likely than what was #1 on our bingo card (fyi: it's an economic crash before the end of the year), but we will explore that in full detail later. For the record, the Carolle Baskin thing wasn’t real, but it was circulating this month as a hot topic. Anyway, moving to the focus of our topic, yes, the fungus from The Last of Us is based on a real zombie fungus. That’s right, the creators of The Last of Us did some research in order to make their hypothetical man-made horror a little more accurate. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a fungus that impacts insects, is what the Cordyceps fungus in the series is based on. Similar to what is seen in the game/HBO adaptation, the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is a pathogenic fungus that when it infects an insect infects the brain and ultimately impacts the insect’s body and behaviors. Here’s where fiction separates from reality- this fungus is mostly found in tropical forests and most commonly infects ants. As the fungus takes over the ant’s brain it forces the ant to move to more favorable climates for the fungus to grow, which consequently, is usually a more humid location that isn’t as favorable to ant life and is typically away from the nest. In that respect, it’s a lot like a fictional zombie virus in which the infected subject’s only will is to obtain more nutrients/food for the parasite regardless of what the host can process. The real question is- is the fungus dangerous to us? The answer is no. It’s kind of everywhere at this point with even some supplements containing it. The benefit of consuming it in the supplement form is said to be improved stamina, better kidney function, and better immune function. Who knew! Is there any evidence that points to a mutation like in The Last of Us? No. At least, as of right now, it is unlikely to happen. In The Last of Us, the mutation of the fungus is caused by climate change, but realistically, that isn’t something that would suddenly cause this fungus to jump to human infection. The pathway to human infection is much more likely to begin with amphibians and aquatic life before moving to land based prey. Environmental specialists are currently observing things like the level of parasites in estuaries and aquatic populations, so we’re sure they would notice something amiss in those populations. Even if they didn’t, we would notice odd land animal behavior resulting from infection just as we noticed and contained the murder hornets and noticed the odd migratory pattern of birds a few years back that resulted in thousands of birds crashing into buildings and dying in large cities.  For the latest in news and stock picks, don’t miss our podcast at