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Culture > Entertainment

Could HBO’s “The Last of Us” Apocalypse Happen IRL?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McMaster chapter.

HBO’s “The Last of Us” and its lead actor Pedro Pascal have taken the Internet by storm. A popular video game-turned-HBO show, it depicts a world overrun by people infected with a fungus known as Cordyceps that invades the host’s brain. The result is a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by zombie-like “infected,” where survivors are determined to do whatever it takes to save humanity. Fortunately for us, zombies are the stuff of fiction. 

Not so fast! The video game and series are based on the very real Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as the zombie-ant fungus. When the fungus infects the ant, it grows inside the insect’s body and hijacks its mind. As the infection progresses, the ant is compelled to abandon its colony in search of a humid environment that is favourable for fungi growth. Afterwards, the ant is forced to climb a nearby plant stem to a height of 25 centimetres, sink its jaws on the underside of a leaf, and await its demise. After death, the fungus erupts from the ant in the form of a fruiting body, spreading its spores to other unsuspecting hosts. Essentially, Cordyceps zombifies ants to live. 

Now, could Cordyceps make the leap and infect humans, like “The Last of Us”?

That’s why you’re reading this, right? “The Last of Us” universe depicts a scenario where Cordyceps evolve and adjust to human body temperatures as the temperature rises, which is reminiscent of our climate situation. Fortunately for mankind, researchers are not worried about fungal pandemics. Rebecca Shapiro, assistant professor at the University of Guelph’s department of molecular and cellular biology, said it would take millions of years of genetic changes for Cordyceps to adapt to humans and infect us like “The Last of Us”. The human body differs significantly from the insects that are typically targeted by these fungi. 

But in the unlikely event that this does happen, I sincerely hope Pedro Pascal is stuck with every one of you. Embrace the opportunity and live out the “we-are-the-last-people-on-earth” trope (I know I would).

Sydney Tomlinson is a part-time writer at the Her Campus at McMaster chapter. In this role, she writes about a range of topics. Currently in her fourth year at McMaster University, Sydney is majoring in Life Sciences with aspirations of pursuing a career in public health (fingers crossed!). In addition to her role with Her Campus, Sydney is a writer for UNICEF, Friends of Doctors Without Borders, Bite-Sized Science, and Tackling MisInformation (TMI) at McMaster. Alongside her writing, Sydney is a casual member with McMaster's Book Club. In her free time, you'll find her swooning over romance novels and period dramas—particularly the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice!