Cordyceps is a genus of over 600 different fungus species. You may have come to know about it from The Last of Us. But, is the Cordyceps Fungus real? 

What is The Last of Us Cordyceps Fungus?

The Last of Us Infection possibility, Poster
Image Courtesy of HBO Max via Twitter

It may have hit you, as it hit me, that there’s this certain curious blend within the plot element that The Last of Us uses. In the game, the Cordyceps fungus is responsible for turning people into walking zombies. That got us here at Spieltimes thinking, is it possible for the Cordyceps Fungus to do something similar in real life?

How do the Cordyceps act in real life?

We do know that it’s parasitic, but only for anthropods (bugs). It takes over ants’ bodies in a parasitic attempt to live off of them. The game (and now the HBO Series) utilizes a possible real-life element and takes it to an artistic extreme. Which is alluring, but also alarming at the same time. Here’s us questioning your query – The Last of Us Cordyceps Fungs – could it be real? 

How The Last of Us shows Cordyceps Fungus

Firstly let’s zero in on what the franchise shows fictionally about the Cordyceps Fungus’ nature. In the game and series, the infection spread to humans through infected crops. Unlike, for example, the Covid-19 virus originated in animal species. Whereas this one originates from a fungus species. 

But ultimately, the spread of any disease does happen through people’s food habits. In the franchise, the disease hits the United States very rapidly, and without much forewarning. Here’s how that may have happened –

How Cordyceps spread itself in the game

  1. Cordyceps’ mechanism of spreading itself is primarily through its hosts. So when it once reaches its host and parasitically takes over them, it will then try to attack other potential hosts. Spreading itself to them.
  2. It can also spread itself through its spores. Although the game hints a good way at how the contagion begins, they don’t necessarily pinpoint it. One guess is that it first spread through human consumption. Although the series showrunners have decided not to use the spores element into their storytelling.

Lets’ say the Fungi’s spore may have reached to common food medium. Then it spread to a household. When someone gets sick, the first instinct (At least in States) is to close themselves down in their house.

Voila! recipe for disaster. The parasitic fungi then may have taken over one host completely, spreading to the nearest family member. What’s left then? a hostile cannibalistic rush of the walking dead nearing the closest person it can to eat their flesh out.

Imagine this happening at the same rate, all around in multiple neighborhoods. You have the recipe for a perfect Zombie apocalypse.

People die when the parasite takes over their body

The Last of Us Part II Review
Sony Interactive Entertainment

It’s also notable that the infection does not really require the host to be completely alive. As seen in the case of human infection in the Last of Us. People actually die when they are being eaten alive, but out of them is born a zombie capable of being manipulated by its parasitic host.

Is it possible for The Last of Us incident to happen in real life?

Now how much of this resonates with real life?

Well, in real life it’s quite complex for a fungus to take over human brains. Ants’ neural system is quite simpler in comparison to a human brain. Take some sense of relief in that when you can.

It’s theoretically possible for The Last of Us to be real

Cordyceps Fungus reality? The Last of Us Part II Review
The Last of Us 2, image courtesy of Spieltimes Review

Because it is theoretically possible for that fungus to mutate enough over long epochs of time. But, there are probably other fungi already that are closer to infecting humans in a zombie-like manner than Cordyceps.

  • One example is Toxoplasma Gondii which  is a very real parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis. Research shows that in rats, this parasite can cause them to actively seek out cats and cat urine (followed shortly by death). It’s nothing short of a suicidal fungus.

Concluding

For Cordyceps to mutate over to humans, it would require thousands, if not millions, of years of evolution. And it cannot go from ant to human in the get-go. It must travel down the animal kingdom, possibly get near to our closest relative – the apes. Then there’s a possibility that it could get to Humans.

In brief, it certainly is not possible for the fungus to infect humans. Ants are very very different from people. But you never know, if anything nature has its ways. Although nature has not frequented going ‘unnatural’ on such a massive scale as of now.

SOURCES: Scientific American, Youtube, Reddit

Also Read:Top 10 Upcoming Animes to Watch in 2023

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Rhytham is a Philosophy graduate who founded a state-level organization that promotes anime and Japanese culture in his home state of Assam India. The org is named Assam Senpai Society. He is also an ardent writer, poet, musician, vocalist, graphic designer, and photoshop artist. He has worked on multiple state and national level conventions. Other than anime, catch him watching western series that really have in themselves the solidity to catch his attention.