The fungus that causes The Last of Us virus is real: what is Cordyceps and how does it work?

Although both the game and the series place us in an extreme context, the terrifying invasive agent that transforms its victims exists in real life.

Now that The Last of Us has finally premiered on HBO, it's a good time to delve into one of the fundamental pieces of its story: the virus that has caused humanity to succumb. In the first minutes of episode 1, we watch several experts in the field explain how this type of disease works and the damage it can cause, but what is the origin of the pandemic that has afflicted a large part of the population?

If we think of the series based on the Naughty Dog video game, the context does not place in a world where humans have been transformed, and although they maintain a humanoid appearance, we can call them monsters without fear of being wrong. Similar to zombies, according to some, but completely different from them, since these beings are not dead; they are still alive, although they are not aware of how they act, there are people who think that people have gone crazy.

What is Cordyceps?

It is the name given to a fungi genus with mycelium (that kind of structure similar in appearance to a set of numerous whitish roots). The fungus in question finds its favorite victims in insects since it is capable of gaining access to their interior and from that moment on, the mycelium takes control of the fungus. In fact, part of the invasive process is the replacement of the host's tissues, which results in a visible and striking change of appearance.

In other words, when the Cordyceps takes hold of its victim, it is able to sprout throughout its body and eventually take over and even make it walk and behave unpredictably. What is most interesting - and terrifying - is that the host continues to live, but is unable to act on its own. If you don't like insects, it's likely that the appearance of one infected by the fungus will cause you real terror, as it's not too far from what happens to humans in The Last of Us.

Does Cordyceps affect humans?

Fortunately for all of us, the answer is no. The reason is very simple: the fungus is not capable of lodging inside warm-blooded living beings. The reason is very simple: the fungus is not capable of lodging itself inside warm-blooded living beings. Hence, the only victims they have within their reach are insects known as poikilotherms (organisms that have no means of regulating their own temperature and therefore always remain at the same level as the ambient temperature).

That's why the premise of The Last of Us is so interesting since both in the game and in the series the story brings to the table a scenario in which global warming has caused the Cordyceps to acquire the ability to infect humans and cause the same effects in them as in insects. So you can rest assured: for now it is impossible that we will end up as Clickers.