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A zombie apocalypse is a very real threat according to science

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Image: Zombie Research Society

Picture this: You go eat your dinner, play a little Fallout 4, you notice your phone is a little quieter than normal, but it’s no biggie. Switch from Fallout to Assassin’s Creed for a while. Check your social networks; they’re a little quieter than usual, too. But hey, maybe everybody you know is super busy. It’s all good, you’ll catch up with them tomorrow. Console off, alarm set, you head to bed. Some time in the middle of the night, you hear some sirens, maybe a few loud bangs, a scream, and the sound of breaking glass. “Whoa, something big must be goin’ down”, you think. But, it sounds like it’s at least a few blocks away, so why worry, right? Roll over, back to sleep. Next thing you know, your blaring alarm clock shatters the eerie silence of the morning and startles you back to reality. You don’t check your cell, you don’t turn on the TV, you’re in too much of a rush to get to work. You step out the door and chaos reigns. You find yourself smack-bang in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

Sound far-fetched? Like something out of from The Walking Dead? Yes, it does. But according to science, it’s actually possible. Not that it would necessarily happen over night, of course. As Matt Mogk, president of the Zombie Research Society pointed out, given our digital, connected society, there’d be social media posts, news reports and the like. Plus, even if we don’t necessarily believe in them, we’re aware of zombies, so we’d recognize them, or at least be cautious. See, in all those wonderfully barbaric fictitious worlds, nobody has ever seen a zombie movie, read a zombie comic, pretended to be a zombie when they were kids. They’re always like “Oh, a crazy lady tried to bite me. That’s odd. Now let’s carry on like normal” And they never seem to have access to the internet or go on social media. Instead, a single person gets bitten, and within 24 hours, without anyone knowing, it’s the end of the world and the zombie apocalypse is in full swing.

So, how will it happen? Well, nobody knows, but there are infections and parasites that are capable of “zombification” in the animal kingdom already, and any of these could potentially mutate to attack humans on a wide-spread scale. However, we’re not necessarily talking about the reanimation of a corpse. According to Mogk, it’s far more likely that it’ll be a plague of “living zombies”. Which, given what we know about infectious diseases and parasitic infections, does make more sense. So, according to the experts at the Zombie Research Society, we may be faced with masses of living people infected by virus, parasite, or some other pathogen, who will be relentlessly aggressive and driven to kill anything in their way. Isn’t that a lovely thought? This could be a man-made pathogen or something that’s already present in nature that mutates to zombify humans. Although there’s also a whole bunch of scientists and experts that believe that reanimation is definitely a possibility. Either way, I do not want to be on the receiving end of zombification. I’ll happily settle for a quiet life on my solar-powered homestead, ruthlessly stabbing in the head any zombies who happen to shamble onto my property.

The Nightmare Fungus: Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a family of parasitic fungi. There’re 1,000s of varieties, and each specifically targets just one species of insect. Perhaps the best known is ophoicordyceps, which attacks the bullet ants of the rain forests. An ant gets infected with the parasitic fungus spores and the fungus rapidly takes control of the body and mind of its host. Can you say zombie insect? Once in control of the poor ant, the fungus makes the host climb upward. Once it reaches a suitable destination, the zombified ant is forced to cling onto a plant site with its mandibles until the fungus is ready for its secondary transformation. At this point, the ant dies and the fungus erupts from its brain. Once mature, which can take up to three weeks, the fungus bursts open and releases more spores. Now, while right now, this fungus only attacks insects, there’s no real reason it couldn’t evolve or mutate to affect humans. Scary, ya?

Terrifying insect Aliens/zombie video:

Toxoplasma Gondii

Now this little gem is a parasite that preys on rats. It infects their brains and begins to alarmingly alter their behaviour. Rats are afraid of cats, because obviously a cat is a rat’s natural predator. However, when infected with toxoplasma gondii, the natural instincts of the rat are suppressed and they’re forced to actually seek out cats. Disturbingly, the end goal of the parasite is for its host to be eaten by the cat. Then the parasite infects the cat, where it begins to breed, before it and all its babies are ejected via poop back into the environment, where the cycle begins again. And, just to make matters worse, because so many of us live with our cats, cuddle them, let them sleep on our furniture, snuggle on our laps, more than 60,000,000 people in the US alone are believed to be infected with toxoplasma gondii. Now, it’s true, that currently there’s no links between the presence of this parasite and abnormal behaviour in humans, but all it takes is one tiny little mutation, and we’re in big zombirific trouble.

There’s a whole bunch of other parasites, including the gross and truly nasty horsehair worms and several species of parasitic wasps. Then there’s diseases like mad cow disease, which scientists claim could reasonably easily be manipulated into a zombie disease. There’s also stem cell research into the regrowth of human organs and the potential to maintain the brain stem (which is the bit that keeps us walking, talking, breathing, etc) without the outer layers of the brain (which make up our personalities, allow us to think, let us talk, etc). And then of course there’s drugs like neurotoxins that mimic death and leave a person open to suggestion, as well as illegal drugs like bath salts that have been known to cause extreme and unprovoked aggression. And, to cap it all off, some people claim that we’re already in the middle of a rapidly growing zombie apocalypse, made up of folks who have become desensitized and predisposed to acts of violence thanks to their over-exposure to masses of digital content. And don’t forget those cellphone addicts, who, according to Nokia, check their phones at least once every 6 minutes, or 150 times per day! All it would take is a mad scientist and we’d have techno zombies, just like Stephen King’s Cell.

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