Parasites are amazing…ly disgusting, as the show Monsters Inside Me manages to detail, with stomach-squelching enthusiasm, each week. Parasites have co-evolved to outwit and co-opt their intended hosts’ biology in such incredibly intricate, devastatingly effective ways. (Just ask any cat lady who’s contracted Toxoplasma gondii.) Much as it always freaked me out to read the sections on parasites in my biology textbooks, I did have to sort of admire their ruthless success.
Until I read about zombie fungus.* I have a zero tolerance policy for zombie-inducing anything—viruses, strange green meteorites, or parasites. (Like the zom-bees of the video game Dead Rising. Not. Cool. Capcom.) For now, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is content to control the brains of carpenter ants, taking a species that evolved to live in trees, probably to avoid O. unilateralis in the first place (canopy:barricaded mall as ants:humans in the zombie outbreak), and death-marching them across the forest floor. All in the name of spreading the zombie fungus spores. What happens when it makes that critical evolutionary leap to infect other hosts? Bipedal ones, perhaps?
Obviously this cannot stand, and now we have the statistical proof: Canadian maths** professors concluded that only a massive, unrelenting campaign to destroy zombified humans would halt the undead takeover, according to their model of a theoretical (I say, inevitable) outbreak of zombies. The results do not surprise this long-time fan of Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide. (Name your favorite weapon, mode of transportation, and secure habitat in comments!) True, it is difficult to trust a man named Robert Smith? given that the question mark, which is actually part of his name, leads one to unconsciously question everything he says. But he’s not wrong. (He’s just weird, okay?) The zombie fungus, and all infected by it, have to go. Right now. Math said so.
* – The PubMed link to the article—for those with access and inclination to read scientific papers—is here. PMID: 19627240
** – They say “maths” (as opposed to “math”) in most countries where the Queen’s picture is on the money, so I made an assumption. Canadians are free to correct me.
Dayle McClintock is one Romero movie short of a zombie bingo.