Mind-controlling fungus turns insects into zombies

Deep in forests around the world a strange fungus is lurking. It doesn’t grow on trees, or from the ground like so many other fungi that we are familiar with. Instead, this fungus infects an unfortunate insect, turning it into a mindless zombie and control of its body until the fungus matures, erupting from the dying insect.

Think this sounds like a plot line from the X-Files? It’s not.

For some unfortunate insects this actually happens; enter the Cordyceps fungus.

How can a microbe turn these normal insects into fungus-erupting zombies? Read on to find out more. Continue reading Mind-controlling fungus turns insects into zombies

How do viruses move outside the cell?

In line with the recent article “Are viruses alive?” I would like to further explore the general nature of viruses. One question that I was recently asked was “how does a virus move?”

Being that viruses are not technically alive in the sense that we know it they also cannot move in a self-directed manner. This is in stark comparison to some other microbes such as Schistosoma cercariae, a parasitic worm, which is capable of burrowing through intact human skin and gaining access to the vascular system within 5 minutes (1).

Thankfully viruses cannot do this, much to our benefit. Because of how they are constructed, viruses cannot mechanically move in a self-directed manner and are subject to movement solely based upon environmental interactions. Essentially, they are not only hijackers who take over cellular processes for their own good, but environmental hitchhikers as well. Continue reading How do viruses move outside the cell?

Are Viruses Alive?

Are viruses alive?

Influenza virus
Influenza virus (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

In a sense, viruses are molecular hijackers bent on subverting host defenses, taking over a host cell’s ability to control nucleic acid and protein processing functions, and making copies of themselves to go out and infect more cells.

Viruses don’t divide like cells, don’t generate their own energy, and are fully dependent on host cells and their proteins to replicate.

Don’t let this simplicity fool you though, viruses have very sophisticated means of taking over cells and turning them into factories for making even more viral copies. However, since viruses are not capable of accomplishing many of the major of functions of life on their own outside of the host cell it has been debated for many years whether viruses are actually “alive.” Continue reading Are Viruses Alive?