Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse …
Let’s stop for a minute here. Haven’t you learned yet that 2020 is fully capable of getting worse all the way to 11:59 pm on New Year’s Eve … on the International Dateline?
Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, University of Copenhagen researchers have discovered two new fungus species that are able to infect and kill flies from within, but keep them ‘alive’ in a zombie-like state so their bodies stay fresh while they eat them and the flies can fly around spreading their spores. Here’s the scary part – the researchers say this is good news and want to try the same thing in humans! Is 2021 here yet?
“The fungi infect two Danish fly species (Coenosia tigrina and Coenosia testacea). As they do, they create a large hole in the abdomen of their infected hosts. The flies buzz about for days as fungal spores are released into the air from this hole and drift upon new victims.”
Does it sound like these fungi are auditioning to play aliens in a new sci-fi movie? In the press release for a new study published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, Jørgen Eilenberg, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen and study co-author, gives the gory details about Strongwellsea tigrinae and Strongwellsea acerosa, both found in the Capital Region of Denmark near Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. the zombification begins when the fungi enter the flies and then begin to eat their way out, creating holes in the fly bodies to eject spores. The flies look normal – in fact, they can still mate and spread more spores to the unsuspecting partner. They exist in the zombie state for a few days, slowly being eaten away, until they finally fall to the ground, roll over, spasm and die for good. Even then, the bodies still spew spores.
“We suspect therefore that these fungi may produce amphetamine-like substances which keep a fly’s energy level high up until the end. At the same time, we have a theory that the fungi also produce substances which keep microorganisms away from the fly’s fungal wound.”
In other words, as Jørgen Eilenberg explains, the fungi make the flies buzz while buzzed, and that’s the part these researchers think could be tried on humans. At the same time, they protect the fly’s wounds from infection by other microorganisms. This combination could be a benefit to surgeons as a means to keep patients alive and infection-free in the OR.
"It is fascinating how the life cycles of these fungi are so well adapted to the lives of the flies they target."
Before you start to think nice thoughts about the fungi, Eilenberg notes that they’ve adapted to hibernate in the winter when the flies are inactive and germinate in the spring when they start moving around again. Don’t feel too sorry for the flies either – they’re both predatory species in the house and stable fly family.
It would take more than a swat of the tail to stop a zombie horse fly. Good movie promo? Let’s hope these adaptable zombifying fungi don’t get the idea first.