Is the fungus in The Last of Us real? In the world of The Last of Us, humanity is on the brink of extinction, with the population dwindling to a scant thousand or so. So what was it that wiped us out in the end? Climate change, artificial intelligence, or nuclear war? No, it was mould.
Yes, in the horror series, a mutated form of a fungus called cordyceps got into the food chain and transformed the majority of humans into zombie-like creatures known as the infected. These cannibalistic monsters only have one drive to make more infected and spread the fungus as far as they can.
As you can imagine, this poses something of a problem for Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and all of our favourite The Last of Us characters. Still, a fungus like that was invented for the game and TV series, right? It couldn’t be real, could it? Is cordyceps from the Last of Us real?
Is the fungus in The Last of Us real?
Yes, cordyceps is a real fungus, although thankfully, it’s not going to cause a zombie apocalypse any day soon. Cordyceps is an endoparasitic fungus, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a parasite that develops on the body and eventually causes the death of its host.
What is the fungus in The Last of Us based on?
The mutated strand of cordyceps seen in The Last of Us seems to have been based specifically on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This nasty strain is colloquially known as zombie-ant fungus and is a type of mould that’s capable of “taking control” of a host ant.
Like in the show, the fungus grows in the brain of the ant, but it doesn’t turn the ant into a violent zombie. Instead, it secretes hormones that cause the ant to leave the safety of its nest and head to a location where the fungus can grow. The ant then dies while the fungus grows inside the corpse, eventually bursting out of the host’s head. Neat hey?
Why can’t the real cordyceps infect humans?
While humans are vulnerable to all sorts of fungal infections, we cannot be infected by the cordyceps that takes over ants.
Why are we immune? Well, there are two reasons, the first is that our immune systems are very good at fighting fungal infections, and the second is our body temperature. The human body is simply too hot for the fungus to survive.
It also helps that Ophiocordyceps unilateralis only really grows in the rainforest, so you’re unlikely to run into it walking through a city block… for now so don’t worry you won’t turn into a Clicker anytime soon.
If you want to know what we thought of the show, check out our The Last of Us TV series review. We’ve also got an article breaking down The Last of Us cast so you know who’s playing your favourite character. We’ve also got a guide on how to watch The Last of Us.