Have you been living in fear of the zombie apocalypse? Worried your neighbors will one day turn into bioterrorism monsters, breaking down your door to infect you? Paranoid the government is plotting chemical warfare that will create a super army of unkillable warriors?
Well get ready -- you've got more to worry about.
The L.A. Times is reporting today that scientists have located a viral gene that forces the host to crawl to the highest nearby location, where it dies and its rotting corpse falls on to the innocent victims below, which then repeat the cycle.
The infected happen to be caterpillars, but the implications for the non-insect community are obviously huge.
According to the research, which was published in Friday's journal Science, the virus Lymantria dispar nucleopolyhedrovirus (LdMNPV) infects gypsy moth caterpillars. The sickened creatures start exhibiting strange symptoms — climbing up trees instead of down them. After their deaths, well ...
“You end up with this sack of virus that opens up,” said lead author Kelli Hoover, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. “It melts and it’s gooey and you get (a trillion) of them raining down and spreading down on the leaves. It’s a very efficient virus.”
So then every other gypsy moth caterpillar on the tree is infected.
And the rain of guts continues.
That in itself is a pretty horrifying image. But let's look at the broader implications: Yes, the caterpillars aren't eating each other in traditional zombie fashion, but death is death and they are effectively killing their brethren while not under their own power.
That aspect aside, here's a broader question: Why are scientists injecting caterpillars with genes they suspect will turn them into zombies?
Obviously, this research is just step one in our governments' efforts to create a zombie super virus — whether their motives are population control, chemical warfare or super army remains to be seen — but one thing we cannot deny: Testing always starts with insects and other lower lifeforms. In a year or two, this same story will come out about fish, dogs, cats and finally, apes. The creatures will no longer be satisfied to just let the infection spew out of their rot — soon they will be actively infecting others through physical contact and bites.
That's when you know it's time to run.
Need proof? Here's another quote from the story: “It’s surprising you could alter such a major behavior,” said Glenn McConkey, a parasitologist at the University of Leeds in England, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It opens up a question of whether this gene might have similar functions in other viruses.”
See? See?! He's already plotting!
Can you imagine the effectiveness of this virus in war? You send one infected soldier into the enemy camp, they blow him up -- and the little bits of his virus-laden body floats down among them, infecting all it touches. Roadside bombs suddenly become our friends as the military creates entire platoons of zombie soldiers -- little walking time bombs of disease.
So I don't know about you, but I'm not waiting. The bags are packed, the spouse and I will be doing our Warning Signs reporting from Canada from now on.
I'm not hanging out and waiting for the zombie caterpillars to come for me.