Researchers at West Virginia University have recently discovered how, exactly, the fungus Massospora hijacks cicadas into acting as its zombified parasite drones:
Massospora manipulates male cicadas into flicking their wings like females – a mating invitation – which tempts unsuspecting male cicadas and infects them.
It’s a recent discovery into the bizarre world of cicadas plagued by a psychedelic fungus that contains chemicals including those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. The research, “Behavioral betrayal: How select fungal parasites enlist living insects to do their bidding,” was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
These actions persist amid a disturbing display of B-horror movie proportions: Massospora spores gnaw away at a cicada’s genitals, butt and abdomen, replacing them with fungal spores. Then they “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” Lovett said.
“Our previous literature always mentioned the strange behaviors associated with Massospora and some closely-allied fungi but what was missing was a synthesis of all this new information that had come to light,” Kasson said. “The most interesting finding is the things we still don't know. We realized that there were some possible scenarios for infection that we had not considered before.”
The researcher suspects that this fungus has also adapted to lie in wait for 17 years, so that it can emerge into the world alongside the 17-year cicada cycle.
In related news, the year is still 2020, and this reality keeps happening.
Return of the zombie cicadas: WVU team unearths manipulative qualities of fungal-infected flyers [WVU Today]
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YouTuber Anton Petrov summarizes the latest research that suggests a fungus found thriving in Chernobyl could be used to block radiation in spacesuits, extraterrestrial structures, and more, based on successful small-scale tests at the International Space Station. Read the rest
Five years after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, scientists discovered a fungi known as Cryptococcus neoformans growing in the wreckage. Humans had known about this particular strain since the late 1800s, since it's known to cause some nasty infections in our decidedly non-fungal human bodies.
Now, after letting the fungus hang around in the radioactive wasteland for a few decades, they've discovered something else: that C. neoformans can actually thrive on that radiation.
From the Express:
The fungi, named Cryptococcus neoformans fungi, contains large amounts of melanin – a pigment found in skin which turns it dark.
The copious melanin levels absorb the harmful radiation, turning it into chemical energy, in the same way plants convert carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose via photosynthesis.
While the idea of a radiation-eating fungus sounds like the plot of sci-fi horror film and/or further proof that our reality is broken, some scientists actually believe this process (known as radiosynthesis) can be beneficial to humans. If harvested correctly, it could potentially be used to create a powerful sun-resistant cream to help protect astronauts from radiation; in fact, they've already tested it at the International Space Station. Other scientists have proposed that this fungus could help to store energy, as a biological alternative to solar panels, or somehow serve to help patients undergoing chemotherapy.
So maybe instead of a sci-fi horror film, we're headed more towards a cool biopunk symbiote scenario? Here's hoping, anyway.
Chernobyl news: Fungi discovered in nuclear reactor which EATS radiation [Sean Martin / Express]
Fungi found in Chernobyl feeds on radiation, could protect astronauts [Abrar Al-Heeti and Jackson Ryan / C-Net]
Image: Pxhere (Public Domain)
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Entomophthora muscae, the "fly destroyer," is a fungus that infects the insect and zombifies. Then, at dusk, "the fly points its wings straight up and dies in a gruesome pose so that a fungus can ooze out and fire hundreds of reproductive spores."
“Oh, it’s a nightmare for the flies,” retired UC Riverside entomologist Brad Mullens told KQED's Deep Look. “If their little brains could comprehend it, they would live in fear.” Read the rest
Actually it's an Octopus Stinkhorn (Clathrus archeri), a type of fungus. But a girl can dream, can't she?
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As concepts for games go, this is a new one: propelling a regenerating fungus through a long series of puzzles by surgically destroying it and forcing it to regrow. And it works. Mushroom 11 is one of the more fascinating reinventions of the platform game in recent memory, the sort of game that feels new beneath your fingers—that asks you to move and think in ways you don't expect—but makes instinctive sense nonetheless.
As the player, you operate a glittering circle that annihilates any part of the fungus that falls beneath it, like an insect incinerated under a microscope. But life always finds a way, and so the organic mass will grow away from your burning gaze, allowing you to propel it forward through crevices, over obstacles, and even into the air.
While there are times when you'll need to move quickly to avoid falling into lava, which will indeed obliterate you, most of the time it's better to be deliberate than it is to be fast. Although you can't control the fungus precisely—it often feels like squeezing a tube of green toothpaste—you can trim it like an oozing bonsai until it eventually does what you want. You can even divide the goop into different parts, use them to independently trigger different elements of a puzzle, then simply erase the part you don't need and move on.
The game doesn't announce any particular plot when it begins, and would probably be just as fun even if there were no story at all. Read the rest
Fungus can fight. Using poisons and flesh-dissolving enzymes (think: mycological "meat" tenderizers), they can defend their turf from incursions by other fungi. Here, a sulfur tuft mushroom (top right) and Phanerochaete velutina (bottom left) hash it out. Read the rest
The Last of Us is a new video game about the zombie apocalypse. But not just any zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us zombies are based heavily, and accurately, on a genus of parasitic fungus that really does take over the brains and bodies of non-human animals like tarantulas and ants. Kyle Hill has a lot of delightfully horrifying things to tell you about this fungus at the Overthinking It blog. Read the rest
In comic books, radiation exposure always leads to awesome superpowers. In reality, not so much. Except in the case of Cladosporium cladosporioides, a fungus exposed to high doses of radiation during the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. Not only did C. cladosporioides survive it gained a superpower — the ability to "eat" radiation. Read the rest