Cordyceps is not fantasy: it exists and turns insects into zombies but is also good for humans
“But is it really like that in reality?”
This is, perhaps, the typical question that every viewer, placed in front of a science fiction film, dragged by the narrative and events, asks. With his gaze full of awe and wonder he is caught by a human doubt, which a bit chills him. Because, I mean, it’s science fiction, not reality. But maybe.
We at The Patent went to delve into a much-discussed topic these days that starts with just such a question. You know the parasitic fungus featured in the award-winning series The Last of Us? It is not entirely a figment of the clever authors’ imagination but is based on something that actually exists in nature.
Cordyceps, which is genetically mutated in the world starring Joel and Ellie, is actually a real existing fungus that boasts about 600 different variants scattered around the world and is capable, effectively, of “zombifying” living beings.
We humans can rest assured: the parasitic fungus, once assimilated by the insects, slowly takes over their bodies, turning them, for all intents and purposes, into zombies with pronounced suicidal tendencies. The zombie insect thus moves into a high place in plain sight making itself vulnerable to predators, in this case mainly birds, which without too much trouble turn it into dinner.
There is no sadism here: the purpose of the parasite is to procreate, infecting new creatures that, in turn, will carry spores allowing it to conquer new prey. Bird guano, imbued with the parasite, will thus be consumed by other insects in a perpetual cycle.
Other types of fungus, on the other hand, turn the insect’s body into a veritable spore machine, with visible fungal excretions-exactly as in The Last of Us-that irradiate other nearby insects.
If you are an insect, it is a real horror movie, but if you are a human being like us, you can rest assured. The fungus has no ill effects on humans and, indeed, is the basic ingredient for many natural medicines and provides several benefits, among them:
improved kidney function
increased physical strength and stamina
strengthening of the immune system
If you like more trivia.
Keep scrolling through our columns!
Author: Alessandro Volpe