Humans vs. Zombies

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At USU Eastern an event is happening which some of you are undoubtedly participating in. Called Humans vs. Zombies, the idea is that one person starts as the walking undead while everyone else is human. As time goes on, the hordes of the undead swell and grow until they outnumber the living and its just a matter of time until humanity is reduced to a shambling, moaning husk with the carnal need to find something that fits between its rotting teeth. Thankfully you only find this in folklore, crazed rants on the Internet and, naturally, college campuses. That means that none of this could really happen, right?

Load up your shotgun, grab that handy knapsack of non perishables and grab your suit of body armor because here’s four ways that it could happen, according to science.

4-Brain Parasites

Parasites that turn their victims into mindless, zombie-like slaves are fairly common in nature, but there is one in particular, a toxoplasmosa gondii. This bug infects rats, but thanks to its unique physiology, it breeds inside the intestines of a cat. The parasite knows that it needs to get the rat inside the cat so in order to do this, it takes over the rats brain and intentionally makes it scurry towards the cat. The rat is being programmed to get itself eaten, and it doesn’t even know. There are a few of these brain parasites that follow this sort of logic, one that gets inside fish and makes them swim right along the surface, making them easy prey for any birds flying overhead.

How this can result in zombies: studies show that half the human population is infected with toxoplasmosa and don’t know it? Want to know if you’re one of them? Flip a coin to find out, yep, chances are 50-50. All it takes is an evolved form of toxoplasmosa, one that could do to us what it already does to the rats, and human beings have no instinct for self preservation or rational thought, even less than we do now that is. And if you’re trying to comfort yourself in the thought that it could take decades for such a bug to evolve, you’re forgetting about the biological labs throughout the world dedicated to weaponizing such bugs.

3-Neurotoxins

Certain poisons slow bodily functions to the point that you can be legally considered dead, even to a doctor. The poison from the Japanese blowfish can do this. Once someone reaches this state, they can be brought back under the effects of a drug, like datura stramonium, that would leave them in a trance-like state with no memory, but would still be able to perform simple tasks like eating, sleeping, moaning and shambling with their arms outstretched.

How it can result in zombies: all we need to do is change that “can” to “does” and you understand what we’re looking at. This happens all the time in Haiti; that’s where the word zombie comes from. There’s even the documented case of Clairvius Narcisse who was declared dead in 1962 by two doctors before he was buried. Eighteen years later, he was found walking around the village thanks to the local voodoo priest who had been using naturally occurring chemicals to zombify people and put them to work on the sugar plantations. But, even if some evil genius intentionally distributed alkaloid toxins to a population to turn them into a shambling, mindless horde, there is no way to make these zombies aggressive or cannibalistic.

2-The Real Rage Virus

If you ever watched the movie 28 Days Later, it is about a virus that turned people into mindless-killing machines. In life, we have a series of brain disorders that do the same thing. Thankfully, none of these were ever contagious so the threat was rather isolated, that is until mad cow disease came along. What mad cow does is attack the cow’s spinal cord and brain, turning it into a stumbling, mindless attack cow. When humans eat the meat, it becomes something entirely different. Here are symptoms to freak you out; changes in gait (walking), hallucinations, lack of coordination (stumbling and falling),muscle twitching, myoclonic jerks or seizures, rapidly developing dementia or delirium. Sure it’s rare and the affected aren’t known to chase people in a murderous mob, but it proves that widespread brain infections of the rage variety are just a matter of waiting for the right disease to come along.

If you think the sudden, mindless violence concept is a bit far fetched, remember you are one brain chemical (serotonin) away from turning into a mindless killing machine. All it would take is a disease that destroys the brain’s ability to absorb that one chemical and suddenly it’s a real-world 28 Days Later. All it takes is a disease, like mad cow, that’s managed to evolve to the point that it spreads through blood-on-blood contact. Or even saliva-on-blood contact and now we have a rage-type virus that can be transmitted with a bite.

1- Neurogenesis

Remember that whole stem-cell research controversy? How everyone always points out how with enough research you would be able to re-grow dead cells or even organs? There’s a special branch that focuses on the re-growth of brain tissue called neurogenesis.

Thanks to science, you can pretty much be saved from anything except brain death; they can swap out your organs, give you new legs, but when your brain turns to mush you’re gone, right? Not for long. They’re already able to re-grow the brains of comatose head trauma patients until they can wake up and walk around again. Couple that with the new ability to keep a dead body in a state of suspended animation so that it can be brought back to life later, and soon we’ll be able to bring back the dead.

There’s nothing that could go wrong with that right? These labs dedicated to “reanimation research” explains how the process of reanimating (yes, that is what they call it) a person creates a problem. Turns out that the process results in the brain dying from the outside in, the outside being the cortex, the nice part of you that makes humans human. That just leaves the part that controls basic motor function and primitive instincts behind. Once someone is at this point your nothing more than a mindless body shambling around, no thoughts and no personality, nothing but a cloud of base instincts and impulses. And that ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a real, undead zombie.

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