It’s become almost an ice-breaking question in ‘geek’ culture. “What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse”? Whilst the truth is that most of us would collapse into mass hysteria, we revel in composing bizarrely intricate solutions to a problem which we’ll never have to worry about. Or will we? Though in most entertainment media the general cause of the specific zombie outbreak is shrouded in mystery, the science behind the idea of stumbling, mindless corpses is surprisingly credible.
Fiction is littered with examples of deceptively plausible zombie ‘formulas’. From the genetically engineered T-Virus victims of the ‘Resident Evil’ series to the rage infested monkeys of ’28 Days Later’. Both of these examples have a basis in real world science. The ‘rage virus’ for example is merely a mutation of the ‘mad cow disease’ that caused quite a stir in the UK towards the tail end of the 20thcentury. The T-Virus too uses the very real ‘toxoplasma gondii’ as its basis, a parasite that has been known to turn rats into mindless drones. In recent PS3 hit ‘The Last Of Us’ too, the fungal mutation that forms the fulcrum around which the games narrative is based is one that actually exists in the insect world. The ‘cordyceps’ brain infection was an idea that first came to the makers of the game after they watched a BBC documentary that featured ants infected by fungus known as ‘ophiocordyceps unilateralis’. This fungus caused unusual fungal mutations in the ants and also make them act aggressively towards one another. Of all the potential scientific causes of a zombie outbreak though, the most troubling is ‘neurogenesis’. Neurogenesis is a process currently being researched by scientists at the university of Pittsburgh in America that can effectively bring back dead brain tissue. The implications are obvious and quietly terrifying to anyone who has ever seen a horror film in which well-intentioned science goes awry (as in almost every horror film made between 1970 and 1990).
The actual basis for the classic ‘zombie’ even has its roots in fact. Witch doctors in Haiti have been experimenting with herbal potions and serums for hundreds of years and it’s widely believed that the 1928 film ‘White Zombie’ (the first time the word was used in a mainstream context) derives its general plot from the case of a women who had been believed dead for years. She had been found in a trance like state, stumbling around her village. There are neurotoxins that can account for this state so it’s not entirely unbelievable. Since then there have been many more sightings and to top it all off, the ‘bath salts’ designer drug currently making waves in America, is thought to induce a ‘zombie-like’ state in its users. One user even attempted to eat a homeless gentleman’s face!
Below, Wish.co.uk has included an info graphic that details some common examples of zombie outbreak and just how possible they might be via a handy (and totally scientifically accurate) ‘plausibility meter’.
A freelance copywriter from Birmingham in the UK, Chris Hoole has always feared the zombie apocalypse above all other potential world ending infections (it is the most popular after all).