- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
Time to catch up on recent events in the zombieverse:
1) Data point #527 that zombies are moving up to the top of the cultural zeitgeist: AMC will be airing a televised version of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series. The Comic-Con trailer looks pretty cool.
2) In an effort to allay rising fears of a zombie apocalypse, Cracked proffers Seven Scientific Reasons a Zombie Attack Would Quickly Fail. They’re trying to be on the side of the angels with this piece, but I gotta say that I’m pretty unconvinced by most of their arguments. They are correct to point out the myriad ways in which zombies are vulnerable to the elements, animals, and firearms. What they don’t talk about is that zombies are not likely to be as seriously affected by these countervailing effects as humans with, well, pain receptors. It doesn’t matter if a zombie destroys itself trying to get at live human flesh. What matters is that by having this single-minded pursuit, they’re pretty likely to succeed, guaranteeing that the zombie race can replicate even as individual zombies decay.
The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists….
The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.
The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.
The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.
The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a "death grip" around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.
I hate to break it to tem, but this is hardly the first zombie insect story — Greg Laden at ScienceBlogs was all over the zombie insect question earlier this summer. It turns out that zombie hornets might exist, which sound way scarier to me than zombie ants.
These creatures are more like the "old school" Haitian zombies, in which some evil master controls them, than the flesh-eating ghouls of post-Romero zombie cinema that have been my primary concern. Still, Current Intelligence’s Adam Weinstein is freaked out:
A plant had one of nature’s most industrial animals do its physical bidding, somehow bringing the neurons and synapses to heel in a coherent, productive way. The liberal arts major in me is mystified and repelled.
The armchair strategist in me thinks: How can our enemies use that?
I’m no chemical or biological weapons expert, so if you are, tell me if I’m crazy, please: Can you imagine a future powder solution, not unlike weaponizable anthrax or botulinum agent, that spreads a fungus capable of commandeering a human brain? Could particular strains be developed to direct hosts into this behavior or that: jumping out of windows, refusing to eat, choking strangers out? Could it even be used to turn reasonable, free-thinking individuals into PBIEDs — that is, suicide bombers?
Well…. first of all, I refuse on principle to believe that an M. Night Shyamalan movie premise could ever constitute a real threat.
Second of all, even if I violated that principle, I’m not sure that this is as serious a threat as the flesh-eating zombie. What makes that strain particularly virulent is its ability to replicate itself. These kind of zombies, at best, render themselves as total slaves. What they can’t seem to do is spread the zombie virus beyond themselves to other agents.
At worst, this kind of bioweapon could, in theory, be used to create a giant army of zombies. Lacking free will, however, they’d be far less effective than the droids in The Phantom Menace.
I think that’s all the zombie news this week. More updates as warranted.