The zombie apocalypse is at hand. Hollywood knows it, scientists know it, and you should know it too. By now the news of a fungus which stalks, kills, and then zombie mind-controls the undead bodies of Amazonian ants is a well-known and horrific reality. At the beating heart of this phenomenon is Penn State's David Hughes, the expert on all things zombified.
"I was always taken with social insects, the idea of the collective. And then immediately I became interested in how parasites break into that collective, and break it down. It's the intersection between this beautifully orchestrated biology and something that's trying to smash it that interests me." — David Hughes
Hughes' somewhat unique take on the creation of undead hordes is something that has allowed him to become an expert in the field of zombification. Hollywood regularly taps him for knowledge of the creepiest kind. And he's recently been involved in the discovery of a third player in the ants vs fungus battle for corpses. Hughes recently reported that a heretofore-unnamed second type of fungus has targeted Ophiocordyceps (the zombie-making fungus) as its own source of parasitic activity.
Ophiocordyceps still turns ants into zombies, taking over their brains and directing them to a nice location to die for the glory of fungal growth. But then, just before the fungus releases its spores upon an ever-growing number of ant victims, a second fungus castrates Ophiocordyceps. This fungus, called a hyperparasite, then reproduces in Ophiocordyceps' stead and so a full-blown ant pandemic is prevented.
We can only hope that something similar could be synthesized in the event of a human-borne fungal zombie outbreak. Without such a limiting factor, cities would be overrun, the zombie apocalypse would well and truly have arrived, and humanity would be doomed. It's not paranoia, it's science.