A zombie apocalypse caused by mind-altering fungi is possible and people should be worried, MPs warned today.
New deadly fungal infections capable of colonizing the human body, as in the popular television show The Last of Us, are emerging faster than ever and rapidly evolving to avoid drugs.
But experts say there is not enough research on new treatments because they are not profitable for pharmaceutical companies.
Matthew Fisher, professor of fungal diseases at Imperial College London, said the magnitude of the threat to humanity is not recognized.
“Fungi pose a huge global burden on public health,” he told the science, innovation and technology committee. “Fungal diseases rank first in terms of global mortality.”
MPs have been warned that new fungal infections capable of colonizing the human body, as in the popular TV show The Last of Us (pictured), are emerging faster than ever and evolving rapidly to avoid medications.
A fungus called cordyceps, or zombie ant fungus, is capable of controlling the minds of insects using psychoactive chemicals. It drains their bodies of nutrients before directing them to high ground and releasing spores to infect others.
The Emmy Award-winning The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic drama based on a hit video game, depicts a world in which Cordyceps has spread to humans and wiped out most of humanity.
Alarmingly, Professor Fisher said rising global temperatures are causing fungi such as cordyceps to evolve and adapt to warmer conditions, which could allow them to colonize human bodies.
MP Dawn Butler asked: “Is a zombie apocalypse caused by fungal infections possible?”
Professor Fisher said: ‘Well, all the bits exist, don’t they?
‘Fungi can produce strongly psychoactive chemicals, which can dramatically influence our behavior, and can also spread and invade humans.
“I would say it’s unlikely, but the fungi are doing a very good job, so it’s possible.”
He added: “There is a level of public panic around mushrooms, but this increased awareness is a good thing.”
More than 6.5 million people suffer from serious fungal diseases and 2.5 million die from them each year, more than malaria and tuberculosis combined. Professor Fisher said fungal attacks also threaten the global food supply, which could be “catastrophic”.
Professor Fisher said new threats emerge all the time and diseases evolve rapidly to combat drugs.
Candida auris, a drug-resistant fungal disease that can cause bloodstream infections and death, has spread rapidly across Asia, Europe and the United States in the past 10 years.
“There is a huge and deep source of fungal organisms that can spread through our global trade routes to colonize the planet,” Professor Fisher said.
“We’ve seen this with the amphibian-destroying chytrid, which has driven a wrecking ball through tropical ecologies and left forests silent. We are now seeing the same thing with humans in terms of the spread of Candida auris.
‘There are at least 20 new antifungal drugs in preclinical development; if we could release them, they would greatly increase our antifungal arsenal.’
Some mushrooms can also be used to treat diseases.
Statins and penicillin are derived from mushrooms, while psilocybin, a hallucinogenic substance found in magic mushrooms, can be used to treat anorexia, fibromyalgia, gambling addiction, depression and anxiety.