Arts & Entertainment

‘The Last of Us’: Could the zombie fungi be our reality?

Written By Lee Butler

The Last of Us game and show series does an impressive portrayal of how Cordyceps would affect mankind and questions how it would be able to infect mankind. Although the zombie fungus found in bugs is real and terrifying, it cannot survive in humans. In today’s society, with the growing threat of global warming and the Corona Virus, would a mass fungus infection be implausible?

Caterpillars infected by Cordyceps are claimed to have various health benefits. Photo from

Cordyceps sinesis is a parasitic fungus that lives on certain insects. Known as the caterpillar fungus, or the zombie ant, it was discovered in the high mountain regions of China.With over 600 species of Cordyceps, they are commonly used as medicine and can be eaten raw or cooked. The fungi are safe to be consumed and cannot infect humans because they cannot survive a human’s body temperature.

Since the release of The Last of Us in 2013, cordyceps have been a controversial topic for scientists. The game and show alike bring up the concern of cordyceps evolving because of global warming, allowing it to eventually infect humans. While most yeasts and molds are heat-sensitive and die at temperatures up to 130°F, and sometimes higher, the fungus cordyceps once only survived up to 94°F. Recent studies confirmed that under thermal stress, the fungus can only survive up to 104℉, enough to withstand the 98°F human body.

A scientist from an early episode of the show, Dr. Neuman, questions what if the fungus would evolve in this manner. He states, “And currently, there are no reasons for fungi to evolve to be able to withstand higher temperatures. But what if that were to change? What if, for instance, the world were to get slightly warmer?” According to, the Earth’s temperature has risen about 2° F in total since 1900, and the rate of warming increases per decade. With the melting of glaciers, rising emissions, and the risks of the newly placed Willow Project, the Earth’s temperature is expected to rise 5-6℉ by 2050. 2022 was the 6th warmest year on record, and all 10 of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred since 2010. With the increasing threat of climate change, the threat of Cordyceps has become more controversial and researched.

Zombie ants, like most insects affected by the fungus, have at least one mushroom stem. Photo from

“What if they’re still inside,” Character Sam voiced his fear about the zombie virus. In The Last of Us, and in previous beliefs, it’s thought that the infection hijacks the brain. In recent reports, it is stated that Cordyceps control the infected’s body and not the brain. The National Academy of Sciences and agree that when spores enter the bloodstream they can grow networks that invade and control insects’ muscles. It is not understood if the infected insect is conscious of what is happening to them. The Natural History Museum of Utah further states that the fungus does in fact spread into the brain of its captive, as well as releases behavior-manipulating chemicals that further weaken and control it. Cordeceps drain the nutrients from its host and fill it with spores that will spread and reproduce the parasite, even after the insect’s death when it expels the spores. If the fungus could infect humans, its behavior would be unlike anything seen in insects.

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