back to article Brain-jacking fungus turns living victims into 'zombies'

Scientists say they have discovered a horrific flesh-eating fungus which is able to infect living creatures and turn them into "zombies". The hapless victims are then compelled to shamble away to a location where their immobilised bodies - as they are gradually consumed from within, acting as food supply and nest to the ghastly …

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  1. Francis Fish
    Coat

    Sound familiar

    I often used to wonder how organisations like EDS, Perot and Andersons used to make people wear suits and only be judged on their ability to wear them, rather than actually do the job. Wonder where they hide the fruiting bodies tho'? In a machine room somewhere?

  2. Smallbrainfield
    Terminator

    Yeuch.

    I've seen a video of this on YouTube. It's just as disgusting as it sounds.

  3. Sordid Details
    Welcome

    Am I the first...

    ...to welcome our fungal zombie overlords?

    It might not be a very nice way to go, but you can't help but admire it!

  4. Jim T

    Another excuse to post a youtube vid

    Watch the horrors unfold here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCOQ0VU24xw

    These fungii scare me witless.

  5. Andy 75
    Alert

    News Flash

    Just in - ant stopped from getting on a plane to france because it was constantly saying "Braains".

    Reports that it was clutching a bad forgery of a ticket for "Vulture 1" departing from Paris are unconfirmed by police.

    I do hope El'Reg will be checking the paper plane for stowaways!

  6. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!
    Flame

    Show it to the Creationists then

    A creationist would argue that something like this must be designed rather than chance, after all how could a simple fungus appear to know so much about the workings of an ant and be able to control and direct an ant in a way that should be beyond the understanding of a fungus.

    Then my counter argument would be, well if God designed something like that, then why would he bother, it's gross and ickky and pointless.

    If there is a God he was possibly smoking something dodgy when he thought that one up.

    Flames, because yeah I mentioned religion and now need to keep my head down...

  7. Nextweek
    FAIL

    I call fake

    Why is the logical conclusion that the fungus is controlling the ants?

    More logical is that an ant knows that it is ill and does not want others to become ill so moves as far away as it can. Then funds a safe place under a leaf.

    Sounds more logical than a fungus controlling brain function. However its probably more news worthy when presented this way.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Not the only parasite to do this

    Lancet flukes have been known for a long time to zombify ants.

  9. eJ2095

    Ahh we got a room here that does that

    Every new Employee has to go to the room..

    Once there..

    Off comes the Scalp (Pop sounded needed here)

    Out comes the brain (Squechling noise here)

    In Goes the Putty.

    Then send back to work as a drone.. (Or sent to work for them Opera guys)

  10. Svantevid
    Grenade

    Chtorr

    I knew the story reminded me of something: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_Against_the_Chtorr

    Just wait for fifteen meter-long gastropedes, this time next year.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DAMN, NATURE!

    YOU SCARY!

  12. Rob Crawford
    Alien

    Theres a similar fungus

    that affects slugs as I remember, which causes the the snail to climb to the top of a plant and advertise itself as food for birds (this is combined with weirdly pulsing eye stalks).. Once the snail is eaten the spores are passed out through the birds droppings to infect new snails.

    (It may be slugs not snails as I was reading about it ages ago & the video footage is rank to quote my daughter)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    Use Linux carefully

    So this is what becomes of all those Ubuntu fanbois.

  14. Nigel 11

    Isn't evolution wonderful

    Even virii have evolved to warp their hosts' brains to their own advantage. Rabies causes its victims to go mad and bite anything that comes within range. How does a host catch rabies? By being bitten.

    Horrid, isn't it..

  15. Sebastian Brosig

    @ Smallbrainfield

    youtube URL?

  16. GaryA
    Black Helicopters

    I'm sure it's useful

    To the Umbrella Corporation....

  17. Jim T
    Alert

    @Nextweek Re, I call fake

    That's a fine theory, and testable - ie, do ants regularly go jab their mandibles into a high leaf when they're ill? I suspect people who study this may have already considered it ...

    Actually I'm not sure why it would make sense that the ants, when feeling ill, would of their own volition position themselves high above other ants and let the disease bearing agents rain down on their kin.

    Personally I'll at least listen to the people who care about being right on this.

  18. Big Duke Six

    Self Defence

    Handy to know if we ever get attacked by an extra-terrestrial insect race. We could give Chuck Norris the day off.

  19. Sweep
    FAIL

    @ Nextweek

    Isn't logic a wonderful thing?

    Unfortunately for you, that parasites can control host behaviour is well known, from directly manipulating the host brain by physical means, to releasing chemicals into the host (this can happen to humans too, by the way, google Toxoplasma gondii).

    Also, if you read the article instead it states that this parasite was already well known, the latest paper is all about the actual mechanisms by which the parasite changes the behaviour of the host.

  20. Robin 2
    Alien

    X-Files?

    I think there was an episode on the X-Files that had fungii entrancing Fox and Dana amongst others. What next? Alien aductions?

  21. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Zombifying ants? Ha!

    Headcrabs were doing the same thing to humans since 1998.

  22. Snoopy
    Joke

    I thought I'd seen this behaviour before....

    I remember where now.... question time!

  23. AlistairJ
    Welcome

    @Nextweek

    No it is not more logical, because Ants don't really think as such, they just do.

    This fungus has evolved into a very specific niche. You may think that this is Fungus 1, Ants 0 but some ants (leafcutters IIRC) actually farm fungus for food. They take bits of leaf back to their burrow where conditions are right for growing fungus on it, they then eat the fungus.

    So you can think of it as what our American cousins like to refer to as "Payback".

    The logical conclusion is that one day, in the not-too-distant future, the mushrooms will start to invade out craniums. Oh hang on ...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    Cordyceps unilateralis

    A very similar fungus was covered on "Planet Earth":

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Earth_(TV_series)#8._.22Jungles.22

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordyceps_unilateralis

    Seriously nasty stuff...

  25. Gary F

    Gross

    Well that's another way to bring the end to human civilization. We've seen how viruses mutate to cross species so maybe this fungi could do the same. Then all it takes is someone to bring back a few spores in their suitcase and another country will get infected.

    I'm sure this will spore on another zombie movie. (Haha, did you see what I did there?)

  26. Andy 21
    Paris Hilton

    WOW !!!

    Cooool ..... A REAL life ZombieX mod - who needs COD5 now ....

    Its gotta be another Paris as she also sucks the brians out of most blokes !!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oops..

    Of course, once re-reading the article, it was this exact species being studied... Interesting stuff though...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Nextweek

    Call off the science! Clearly, you, with one forum post, are able to cut right through all that exhaustive research and hundreds of years of scientific method and biological study. Science, move over! There's a new boy in town, and -you're- obsolete!

  29. Michael Strorm

    @Nextweek

    "Why is the logical conclusion that the fungus is controlling the ants?"

    "More logical is that an ant knows that it is ill and does not want others to become ill so moves as far away as it can. Then funds a safe place under a leaf."

    (Disclaimer: I Am Not A Biologist and the following is speculation)

    This is where words like "control" can be misleading (if not anthropomorphic) in such contexts. It's quite likely that this *is* the case and the fungus has evolved to exploit this tendency of ants. It could be said to be "controlling" their brains in this way.

    This is, as you say, far more likely than an organism as simple as a fungus somehow being able to manipulate the ants' brains in a more complex manner- exploiting an existing and inherent characteristic of ant behaviour. However, it doesn't actually contradict the headline.

    It's quite possible that the story got distorted a couple of steps down the line from the original source (as happens with science stories) and will be "KILLER MUSHROOM DOES BRAIN SURGERY ON ANTS" by the time it appears in The Sun.

  30. D@v3
    Flame

    am i the only one...

    ...who sees the similarity to the transmission of the Flood parasite in the Halo series?

    <--- Fire beats fungus.

  31. Sergie Kaponitovicz
    Terminator

    @ several: Latin

    Singular: virus. Plural: viri (not virii)

    Singular: fungus. Plural: fungi (not fungii)

    OK, pedantry over.

    In a different life I was a medical microbiologist, saving lives, here in the UK and later in Africa. To this day I remain in awe of what pathogenic microorganisms do to the hosts they infect. Even more clever are the parasites, which increase their own population without killing the host.

    A truth that was told to me as a student is "Don't believe the text books as gospel. Germs don't read text books, so they make up the rules as they go along". In other words, they evolve. Another one for the creationists, FuzzyDuck (MRSA did not exist before we started using methicillin), so I am on your side!

  32. Ru
    Boffin

    Re: "what our American cousins like to refer to as "Payback"

    This is hardly payback... in return for being nibbled on a bit, the fungus gets to be widely spread, and well protected from other insects which might overgraze it. Its future is pretty much assured.

    You can see a not dissimilar relationship in the supermarket. Most successful bird species on earth? Avis Domestica. Though individuals get eaten fairly often, the species is incredibly widespread and its continued survival into the future is pretty much guaranteed, so long as it major predator continues to thrive, and they remain tasty and nutritious.

    Anyway, back to the subject at hand... there's lots of similar parasitic fungi. Here's a delightful photo of one eating a fly: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismorgan/3556399015/ It spreads in a similar fashion, by making the fly cling to a stem and spread its wings to act as a spore disseminator.

  33. Mark S 1
    Dead Vulture

    @Gross

    First carpenter ants, next human carpenters, then the rest of us. Maybe a high level of alcohol in the bloodstream confers immunity.

  34. Flakey

    This is what happens when.....

    scientists spend too much time in the lab surrounded by chemicals and start playing Prototype

  35. Niall 1
    Joke

    Nasty!

    but what we really want to know is what did the Pink Panther say when he saw this?

  36. Rob Crawford
    Alien

    @nextweek

    Ohhh you are so silly

    As for the snails I mentioned it's a flat worm that does the brain control bit (sorry but it was years ago) but heres a link anyway http://people.smu.edu/eheise/Leucochloridium_paradoxum.htm

  37. Kwac
    Big Brother

    @nextweek

    One word, OK, two "peer review".

    You don't just send an item into a journal and expect them to print it.

    It's passed on to others in your field, returned/re-returned/re-returned to you for editing, updating, clarification - expect a MINIMUM of 6 months for it to be accepted.

  38. Chris007
    Terminator

    I for one...

    ...welcome our zombie fungus overlords.

  39. Lloyd
    Stop

    Aha!

    I knew there was a damn good reason for people buying Lily Allen records and I think we've just found it.

  40. Your alien overlord - fear me
    Troll

    I see it now

    "Ant" and Dec - in a jungle, making people do stupid things. I wonder if someone is infected and is trying to get all the contestants zombiefied, certainly viewers go brain-numb just watching them.

  41. H 5
    Big Brother

    Mind Control

    Catapillars:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14053-zombie-caterpillars-controlled-by-voodoo-wasps.html

    Rats

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11516-parasite-hijacks-brains-with-surgical-precision.html

    Oh My..

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227115.000-parasite-may-increase-your-odds-of-an-auto-accident.html

    Give Leon a call, Las Plagas is here, run for the hills.

  42. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Slugs and snails and Latin.

    @Rob Crawford: Could this be the snail fungus you were referring to?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWB_COSUXMw

    @Sergie Kaponitovicz: The plural of virus in the modern sense is generally accepted to be viruses. The Latin 'virus' seems to be one of those rare nouns that has never been recorded as having a plural, possibly because in the original Latin it appears to refer to poison or venom en mass rather than as something countable.

  43. Sergie Kaponitovicz

    @ Simon Harris

    Let's agree to differ. I did say "pedantry aside", but for the record I believe that you are wrong. Any Latin word ending *****us when converted to the plural becomes *****i. I went to a good school: it was Approved.

    When I was learning how to save lives, all of my tutors used the word 'viri' (pronounced v-eye-ree).

    The Americans changed it to 'viruses' when Windoze woz shone 2 b a lode of shite.

  44. Rob Crawford

    Thats the one

    Yeah Simon thats the one, unfortunitely as I said I was wrong apparently it's a flatworm not a fungi. It's still damned creepy

    I also remember a mention of a cat parasite that changes cats behaviour but I could be wrong

  45. Eugene Goodrich
    Paris Hilton

    Saw this in a movie once, too...

    Has anyone seen the end to "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes"? Disturbing. Matches parts of the description in this article perfectly.

    Paris, because I assume she fancies going out to see a surreal movie.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    ew err missus

    My bessie mate's a zombie, been that way for years.

    But don't let that put you off, he's a fungi to be with.

  47. teaboy
    Terminator

    attended a talk with the writter a few years back

    "By Nextweek Posted Wednesday 12th August 2009 11:35 GMT

    Why is the logical conclusion that the fungus is controlling the ants?

    More logical is that an ant knows that it is ill and does not want others to become ill so moves as far away as it can. Then funds a safe place under a leaf.

    Sounds more logical than a fungus controlling brain function. However its probably more news worthy when presented this way."

    they go high up to allow the greatest chance of the spores given off by the fruiting fungus finding another ant to infect as ants avoid going near ants that are infected and move their trails accordinly

  48. Rafael 1
    Happy

    @if God designed something like that

    > "if God designed something like that, then why would he bother, it's gross and ickky and pointless."

    My god would do it just for the kicks.

    > "If there is a God he was possibly smoking something dodgy when he thought that one up"

    Yup, that's him, all right.

  49. Blue eyed boy
    Joke

    I spent ten minutes...

    ...trying ti anagrammise Ophiocordyceps unilateralis into something that meant "April Fool" before (a) giving up and (b) realising it's August.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My initial research suggests that there is a similar fungus operating in humans

    commonly known as "Microsoft Powerpoint"

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Show it to the Creationists then

    >Flames, because yeah I mentioned religion and now need to keep my head down...

    That all depends which God you were talking about, there are so many to chose from and quite a few of them seem to have more violent followers than others.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    proof of concept

    G.W. Bush

  53. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    @Sergie Kaponitovicz (Wednesday 12th August 2009 14:49 GMT)

    Salve!

    "Any Latin word ending *****us when converted to the plural becomes *****i. I went to a good school: it was Approved."

    Doesn't make it Correct, though.

    Try "casus" or "manus", or check out the "fourth declension".

    As to "virus" which doesn't really have a plural, "virusticles" might work just as well if needed... :-)

  54. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I saw this very thing on an Attenborough documentary over 30 years ago!

    Once again so-called "scientists" fail to do science, or at least do it in a timely manner.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    @That's the one

    "I also remember a mention of a cat parasite that changes cats behaviour but I could be wrong"

    Nah, you're probably thinking of cats being parasites that change their host's behaviour - I know ours certainly does.

  56. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Syphillis

    Makes you insanely smart.

    Obviously so that you can find more sex partners.

    Side note... Under a microscope syphillis and Tooth Decay germs look almost identical.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    management

    ha! I finally found out what really happens at the management training courses ..they go in all okay but come out devoid of IT knowledge and ready to take the rest of us down.. 8-)

  58. Youngone Silver badge

    We've got them in New Zealand too. (sort of).

    Have a look at this: http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bio04Tuat01-t1-body-d1.html

    Not exactly the same, but a similar concept. My Mother* has lots of these on display in her home, for curious grandsons to look at.

    *She's a World Famous in New Zealand Botanist, not just eccentric.

  59. Glen 9
    FAIL

    dammit

    Headcrab comment already made.

    Serves me right for turning up late.

  60. PerfectBlue

    Darwin

    I know that this might sound odd, but I'm having a really hard time seeing how gradual generational evolution through natural selection could produce such a fungus. I can believe all of the individual parts to some level, but for a fungus to evolve to the state where it can compel a completely separate species to go to a certain type of location and then hang upside down?

    I'm not suggesting that this is fake, or some kind of CIA/Russian/alien experiment gone wrong, but I just cannot reconcile something so so complex and so specific with what I learned about evolution in school. I can buy that dinosaurs turned into birds, and all of that, but for a fungus to compel and an to hang upside down 25cm above the jungle floor, etc, etc. It's to much to take in.

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