'The Last of Us': Scientists Debunk Possibility of True Cordyceps Infestation

The fungus expert seemed like an interesting guy.

While HBO's new hit series "The Last of Us" is a smash hit and a cultural landmark after just two weeks, it also turns those of us who are more adventurous into something unexpected: Amateur fungi enthusiast. The lore behind The Last of Us explains a virus transmitted - via spores in the game, via tendrils in the TV adaptation - via the Cordyceps virus, which takes control of the frontal cortex and essentially turns the human host into a mindless husk focused purely to spread the virus. Mycologists - or experts on fungi - now have the opportunity to speak to a wider audience about how they work, and the dire possibilities and realities of the dangers fungi pose.

One of the most famous figures in the field of mycology was Paul Edward Stamets, a mycologist and entrepreneur who studied fungi and sold products made from them. Stamets watched Episode 2 of The Last of Us and basked in the new details the show provided about how the Cordyceps virus appeared on screen. He shared his thoughts on the content of the show on Twitter:

I have just finished watching the second episode of #TheLastOfUs and I have two opinion. First, I'm a science-fiction fan and I love weaving the creative elements of fungi into the narrative. But let's get real. Cordyceps can not infect humans. But all organisms must eat. There are animals that are predatory. There are plants that are predatory. There are fungi that are predatory. We are all part of a giant food web where we are sustained by each other. This is fiction weaved info a theme speckled with mycology and exploiting Mycophobia: the fear of fungi. It is natural for humans to fear that which is powerful but mysterious and misunderstood. So I applaud the writers for seeing this opportunity to take us on a literary adventure into the realm of sci-fi while exploiting the public's fascination, fear, and joy of fungi.

In 20 years, who knows? - Perhaps The Last of Us will be responsible for the greatest development of fungi-based research to aid humanity. Or it could just be a cool TV show. Anyway, we won.

The Last of Us airs new episodes on HBO Sunday nights.

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