Tech & Science This nightmare fungus turns ants into zombies and controls their every movement

03:38  15 november  2017
03:38  15 november  2017 Source:   Techly

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Scientists say that a fungus in some parts of the world invades the bodies of ants and takes control of their behavior, turning the ants into zombies .

A new type of parasitic fungus takes control of ant by burrowing in their brains. - Four new species of fungi that turn ants into zombies have been discovered in the Amazon. - Ants become infected when they come into contact with spores released by the fungus .

Ants.© Getty Ants.

Their brains aren’t the problem.

Those poor old ants that become zombies thanks to fungus are back in the news again.

According to a new study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it’s the ants’ muscles rather than their brains that are infected.

The zombie ant fungus, which scientists call Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, was discovered way back in 1859 and hit the mainstream when it was featured in an episode of 2006’s Planet Earth.

The fungus infects the ant, then takes control of its body and forces it to bite into leaf and stay there until it dies. It’s forced vegetation by fungus resulting in death.

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Search for: Fungal Disease. Mind- controlling fungus turns insects into zombies . How can a microbe turn these normal insects into fungus -erupting zombies ? (Figure 2 from Shrestha et al). What we do know is that when ants are infected their behavior changes.

For the most part, tropical carpenter ants spend most of their time high in the forest canopy away from the ground. Every once in a while they do venture Once the fungus finds this leaf it waits for the sun to shine at its highest intensity of the day, it is then that the fungus forces the ant into “the death grip.”

The fungus then continues to grow, eventually piercing the ant’s head’s head and shooting spores into the air to infect other ants. Nature is so damn metal sometimes.

Using 3D images, AI and machine-learning algorithms, the researchers looked at cell-level interactions between the fungal parasite and the ant host and found that fungus cells surrounded the ant’s muscle fibres but did infect the brain.

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This fame might make it seem there is just one fungus that can create such a nightmare . But in fact there are many species of them, and zombifying ants is not their only speciality. New parasitic fungi found that turn ants into zombies .

That's when you realize you are not in control of your body. The leaf crunches in your mouth. You try to pull away, but can’t. These researchers learn about how and when the fungus spreads, and how ants might avoid turning into zombies .

“Normally in animals, behaviour is controlled by the brain sending signals to the muscles, but our results suggest that the parasite is controlling host behaviour peripherally,” said senior author of the study David Hughes. “Almost like a puppeteer pulls the strings to make a marionette move, the fungus controls the ant’s muscles to manipulate the host’s legs and mandibles.”

Hughes and his colleagues believe that the fungus might preserve the ant’s brain so that it can survive long enough to perform its final biting act. You just have to admire the evil brilliance of that.

Gamers might notice the term “Ophiocordyceps” as being a little familiar.

In the 2013 game The Last of Us, the fungal infection that almost wipes out humanity is called “cordyceps” and functions in a very similar way. This is no coincidence and in an interview, the game’s creators even said that the zombie ants were an important inspiration. Yeah science!

Cordyceps is super bad news for ants but good news for us, because The Last of Us Part 2 is officially on the way.

The teaser trailer was revealed at last year’s PlayStation Experience and a brutal snippet of the game was recently released at Paris Games Week.

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