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Could The Fungus Outbreak In ‘The Last Of Us’ Happen In Real Life?

This week, HBO dropped the first episode of the highly anticipated video game adaptation, The Last of Us, and introduced millions of viewers to a world overtaken by a jarringly realistic “zombie” outbreak. Thanks to a clever opening scene in the HBO series, The Last of Us teed up the start of the outbreak right from the jump: fungi. More specifically, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the real-life zombie fungus that served as an inspiration for the “Cordyceps brain infection” in the video game.

During an interview with Mashable, The Last of Us game creator Neil Druckmann revealed that the outbreak in the game was based on the now-infamous 2006 Planet Earth clip that showed an ant being taken over by the Cordyceps fungi, which you can watch below:

In the show, the Cordyceps outbreak is facilitated by climate change, which forced the fungi to evolve to survive in warmer temperatures thus allowing it to infect the human body with horrifying results. However, it’s not that simple in real life. Fungal infections are prevented by more than just body temperature even though that’s been a significant barrier. In short, the human immune system has a robust arsenal at its disposal.

As for the climate change angle, CNET reports that fungi are actually dying off faster because of climate change and not evolving to withstand higher temperatures as The Last of Us theorizes:

Another species known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis, found on the Tibetan plateau, provides a potential counter. The species has long been used in Chinese medicine and some of the compounds it creates have been studied for their anti-cancer properties. However, in 2018, mycologists showed climate change — in addition to overharvesting — was leading to a decline in the species. The Himalayas are particularly vulnerable as the world warms and, at least for this species, adaptation and evolution isn’t keeping pace. Perhaps we’re warming the world too quickly for fungi to adapt.

The Last of Us drops new episodes on HBO and HBO Max on Sundays.

(Via CNET)