Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Postby Sionnach Glic » Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:36 pm

In a bizarre parasitic death sentence, a fungus turns carpenter ants into the walking dead and gets them to die in a spot that's perfect for the fungus to grow and reproduce.

Scientists have no clue how the fungus takes control of the brains of ants so effectively. But a new study in the September issue of the American Naturalist reveals an incredible set of strategies that ensue.

The carpenter ants nest high in the canopy of a forest in Thailand, and they trek to the forest floor to forage. The fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, prefers to end up on the undersides leaves sprouting from the northwest side of plants that grow on the forest floor, the new study showed. That's where temperature, humidity and sunlight are ideal for the fungus to grow and reproduce and infect more ants.

Once infected by the fungus, an ant is compelled to climb down from the canopy to the low leaves, where it clamps down with its mandibles just before it dies.

"The fungus accurately manipulates the infected ants into dying where the parasite prefers to be, by making the ants travel a long way during the last hours of their lives," said study leader David P. Hughes of Harvard University.

After the ant dies, the fungus continues to grow inside it. By dissecting victims, Hughes and colleagues found that the parasite converts the ant's innards into sugars that help the fungus grow. But it leaves the muscles controlling the mandibles intact to make sure the ant keeps its death grip on the leaf.

The fungus also preserves the ant's outer shell, growing into cracks and crevices to reinforce weak spots, thereby fashioning a protective coating that keeps microbes and other fungi out.

"The fungus has evolved a suite of novel strategies to retain possession of its precious resource," Hughes said.

After a week or two, spores from the fungus fall to the forest floor, where other ants can be infected.

Making nests in the forest canopy might be an evolved ant strategy to avoid infection, Hughes figures. The ants also seem to avoid foraging under infected areas. This too might be an adaptive strategy to avoid infection, but more study is needed to confirm it, he said.

How the fungus controls ant behavior remains unknown. "That is another research area we are actively pursuing right now," Hughes said.


Cool, yet sort of scary. :)
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Re: Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Postby Mikey » Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:44 pm

So, basically, there's a mushroom in Thailand that practices voodoo on ants. That's spook-tastic.

I wonder if there was a way I could do that to a bratwurst.
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Re: Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Postby Vic » Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:13 am

Have it wander into your fridge and latch onto the bottom of a rack just above the beer?
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Re: Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Postby Tyyr » Fri Aug 20, 2010 11:44 am

I'm still trying to wrap my head around just how the fungus compels the ants to go exactly where it wants them to and how it consumes all of the ant except what's needed to keep it attached to the leaf. That's a level of specialization and fine control that's stunning.
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Re: Zombifying Mind - Control Fungus

Postby Coalition » Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:50 pm

Try this fictional story on for size:
http://www.somethingawful.com/d/daily-d ... merica.php

Fungal control of humans. Even some basic stuff for the controlled's point of view.
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