"The Last of Us": Science fiction or something that could happen in real life?

The series "The Last of Us" / Photo: Supplied by LMK / Landmark / Profimedia

The TV series "The Last of Us", which is an adaptation of the video game series of the same name, is considered an absolute success that immediately won an audience of millions on ABC. It currently holds a high rating of 9.2 out of 10 on the IMDb website, placing it among the legendary series "Breaking Bad" (9.5 / 10), "Chernobyl" (9.4 / 10), "The Wire" (9.3/10) and "The Sopranos" (9.2 / 10).

The events of the series are in the present time, that is, in 2023, twenty years after a fungal pandemic ravaged the planet. And while we follow the survival of the main characters Joel (Pedro Pascual) и Ellie (Bella Ramsay) in front of the small screens, we can't help but wonder: "Could a fungal pandemic like this happen in real life?".

At the beginning of the first episode of "The Last of Us", a fictional show from the XNUMXs is shown, in which an epidemiologist talks about what a pandemic caused by a fungus would look like.

"One gene (of fungi) could mutate, any one of them could 'bury' itself in our brains and take control not of millions, but of billions of us. We would become puppets with poisoned minds, permanently fixated on one unifying goal – to spread the infection to every last living person by any means necessary. And there is no medical treatment for this, no preventions, no cures – they don't exist and it's not even possible to do them. We will lose," says the epidemiologist in the series.


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Like what writes Esquire magazine, it is very likely that this character is based on the famous entomologist and biologist Dr. David Hughes. He specializes in the subject of parasites, especially the cordyceps variety which causes the "zombie ant" phenomenon, in which the fungus takes over the ant's body to spread its spores.

The creators of the video game "The Last of Us" saw this phenomenon in the documentary Planet Earth (2006) on David Attenborough and contacted Dr. Hughes to work with them in creating the popular game.

Speaking to Esquire, Dr. Hughes answered the question of whether it is possible for a fungus to cause a pandemic in real life.

"The fungal group that caused this (in the series), cordyceps, is indeed present in plants and grain. There is one called called ergot. And when people eat infected rye, they have psychotic episodes. A good historical background for this is that the Salem witch trials were caused by people eating infected rye. There are many other documented cases. Such is the disease, the Fire of St. Antonius, which appeared in Europe and caused convulsive behavior in sufferers. The last case was in 1951 in France, when someone sold bread infected with the fungus. The whole town fell into hysteria, and a 14-year-old girl tried to kill her mother with a knife. Also, LSD and ketamine come from this group of fungi. "So the idea that a fungus can cause convulsive, disgusting behavior is true, and the idea that you can eat a pathogen that infects you is also true," says the biologist.


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Dr. Hughes also answered the question, "How fast do fungi move?"

"They move very slowly, but fungi are much more like humans than plants. Well, what kills the fungus kills us. It's pretty easy to kill a bacterium because they're so different and the chemicals that kill them won't kill us. It is similar to trying to kill cancer in our body – chemotherapy can kill us. That's the problem," he explained.


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He says that to protect ourselves, we must listen to the technical experts.

"Well, as my t-shirt says, 'Every disaster movie starts with someone ignoring a scientist.' We should listen to the technical experts. We can stop these things, but then we break the rules. That's the problem with human societies – we act selfishly, rather than collectively. Ants are really good at controlling cordyceps because they have a collective immune system. They even fence off the infected brothers and sisters, who, in turn, do not fight because their genes are in those who will survive. "But people aren't happiest when they're 'walled off,'" says Dr. Hughes.

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