Zombie Fungus Among Us

A fungus found in tropical forests, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, (save that for your next game of Scattergories) uses a mind controlling chemical concoction to control the brains of ants.

Once an ant is infected with the fungus, the cells of the fungus multiply and start working with each other. They build short tubes as a way to communicate and exchange nutrients. They also begin to invade the ants muscles, but leave the brain untouched:

Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature…

Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow…

It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body.

The fungus forces the ant to lock its little ant legs around a leaf, and “eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores.” This is a pretty gruesome thing to do to an ant, even if you are a bug hater like me.

Revenge of the Mold

The Atlantic has a great article about the dangers lurking in mold; something people recovering from Hurricane Harvey will have to contend with for years:

“Submerging a city means introducing a new ecosystem of fungal growth that will change the health of the population in ways we are only beginning to understand. The same infrastructure and geography that have kept this water from dissipating created a uniquely prolonged period for fungal overgrowth to take hold, which can mean health effects that will bear out over years and lifetimes.

The documented dangers of excessive mold exposure are many. Guidelines issued by the World Health Organization note that living or working amid mold is associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma and immunological reactions. The document cites a wide array of “inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms isolated from damp buildings, including their spores, metabolites, and components,” as well as evidence that mold exposure can increase risks of rare conditions like hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis and chronic sinusitis.”