Zombies: The Invertebrates
October 31, 2011 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Wasps create cockroach zombies, viruses produce zombie caterpillars, deep-sea zombie worms live off decaying whale bones, South American flies 'infect' ants with brain-sucking larvae.
posted by Laminda (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There was a bit on a parasitic fungus (of all things) that does something similar in the Planet Earth series. It was totally gross. (alternative clip)
posted by jquinby at 7:34 AM on October 31, 2011

The phorid flies make chestbursters seem downright passé. (Not that I'm really anxious to see John Hurt's head pop off and a baby alien emerge from his skull.)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:39 AM on October 31, 2011

That's basically Eraserhead.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:47 AM on October 31, 2011

and a hearty good morning to you, too.
posted by otters walk among us at 7:57 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not to be too self-linky, but my colleague and I just finished reconstructing the zombie brain based upon our behavioral observations.

Nine neurological symptoms, and how this information helps you survive the zombie apocalypse! :D

(This is what happens when nerds get bored.)
posted by bradleyvoytek at 8:11 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Isn't nature wonderful!

No, seriously, isn't nature wonderful? More fun bugs and yet still more (previously).
posted by kinnakeet at 8:18 AM on October 31, 2011

"You don't believe in evolution? Then your creator is one sick bastard."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:34 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Intelligent design! Probably!
posted by Decani at 8:38 AM on October 31, 2011

@bradleyvoytek You should post this on MeFi Projects. Your neurological overview is awesome.
posted by glaucon at 8:40 AM on October 31, 2011

Zombie Research Society
posted by jeffburdges at 8:56 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

@glaucon: thanks! I didn't think of doing that. Great advice. Done.
@jeffburdges: #5 :D
posted by bradleyvoytek at 9:05 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Earlier this year, Hans Rickheit and I put together a six-page comic concerning similar insect behaviour. Previously on MeFi Projects.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:33 AM on October 31, 2011

And let's not forget zombie spiders.
posted by rouftop at 10:52 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zombies like this are everywhere in nature, really in a way all true parasites start to look like zombies. They all modify their hosts for better survival or proliferation.

For a parasite to survive it can follow one of two strategies, or of course a mix. It can care little for its host and make as many infectious particles as possible at the host's expense, thus increasing virulence (how much the parasite fucks up its host as a consequence of infection), but it doesn't matter because the parasite has already found replacement hosts sneezed on by the first. Or it can do its best to reduce impact on the host, shed infectious particles slowly, and not need to spread to quickly because it will last a while in each host. The best zombies, of course, do both; but one reduces the need for the other.

Note that I'm saying infectious particle, which makes no judgement about the animated status of the parasite between infections, because most people do not consider the vast majority of the parasites on the planet to be alive. I call them undead.

Viruses. They are the capsid encoding, rather than ribosome encoding, organisms of the planet that, instead of replicating themselves outright, rely on hijacking the cellular machinery of other organisms to replicate.* The most interesting ones from an evolutionary perspective are the viruses of bacteria, commonly known as bacteriophages.

Bacteriophages, also known as phages, have a clear dividing line between the two parasite strategies I mentioned at the beginning. The simplest and most virulent phages will always immediately shut down their host’s metabolism upon infection and replace it with their own. Within a short period of time, generally around forty minutes, the phage will have used the host cell to replicate its genome, build new protein particles, packed those particles with the genome and lysed the cell; setting loose 30-3000 new inert infectious particles made of only protein and nucleic acid. These are known as obligately lytic phages, and have profound implications for the treatment of bacterial infections*. Most phages however, use a mix of this strategy and another one known as lysogeny. These temperate phages will, at the beginning, decide to either virulently infect, producing particles at the dramatic expense of the host, or hide in the host’s genome and inactivate all of its many host lethal genes. Generally it does this by expressing a transcriptional repressor that prevents expression of everything but the repressor.

Tl;dr: All of this explanation has been so that I can talk about some really interesting zombies, like the causative agent of cholera. You may have heard that cholera is caused by this interesting critter known as Vibrio cholerae, but this is only partly true. Vibrio are, for the most part, planktonic marine bacteria content to scavenge for low levels of organic substrates in the oceans and leave us well enough alone. However, when infected by the temperate CTX-φ and TLC-φ phages, Vibrio cholerae suddenly gets a pathogenicity cassette of DNA with a type IV pillus and the really nasty cholera toxin. Vibrio cholerae is the pleasant dude who rolls around on the back of a truck with a jumpsuit and a NASCAR hat picking up the garbage in front of your home, CTX-φ is the agent that turns him into a poison-syringe/grappling-hook wielding madman looking to feed off of your guts. There are a bunch of other diseases that are really caused by phages rather than their hosts like E. coli O157:H7 (the jack in the box kind), botulism, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and shigellosis as well as a lot of shrimp and insect diseases.

Even obligately lytic phages start to look like zombies when you really think about it. Please don’t tell my department, but my thesis research is really a fantastic model system for the coming zombie apocalypse. I am characterizing the susceptibility of bacterial micro-colonies in agar media to obligately lytic phage penetration and proliferation by size and age of micro-colony as well as speed of infection. It does have genuinely useful implications for understanding what aspects of biofilm development are useful in phage defense (One of the primary reasons they form to begin with), and is an interesting series of basic research questions no one knows the answers to. However, it is also happens to measure whether aggregating into clusters makes a population more vulnerable to a zombie-like infectious agent or whether aggregation would make a useful strategy to slow infection.

*Note that when I say virus or phage I mean the virus or phage pregnant cell not the viral particle. If you were asked to count the frogs in a pond would you include the eggs?
posted by Blasdelb at 10:57 AM on October 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

Metafilter: a poison-syringe/grappling-hook wielding madman looking to feed off of your guts.
posted by jquinby at 11:01 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

People are dreaming if they think this is not happening to us.

I'll be shocked if most STDs don't turn out to be making it more likely that their victims will have sex-- promiscuous sex, in many cases.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease due to infection, for a trivial example, often leads to infertility in women, making it more likely they will seek out new partners if they are looking to reproduce, or that their mates will.
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on October 31, 2011

Looks like they finally find the Higgs boron.
posted by cthuljew at 3:06 PM on October 31, 2011

None of this freaks me out as much as the memory of watching nematoads devour fig wasps from the inside while a calm David Attenborough assured me that, well, at least some of the wasps made it in another fig.

I have not eaten a fig newton since 2005.
posted by chemoboy at 11:07 PM on October 31, 2011

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