On the Origin of 'The Walking Dead'

Greetings everybody,

I have wanted to do this post for quite a while to be honest. During university, every student had their 'go to series' in order to distract you from any form of academics, for my housemates and I it was 'The Walking Dead'.

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I am always one for a bit of post apocalyptic drama so I fell right into it, however, I couldn't quite switch my science mind of. Then I realised it, I was using 'The Walking Dead' to revise! It was small things I assure you, like using the rules of group selection theory to explain the zombies that gather in hoards compared to 'lone walkers'. My housemate and I even unravelled the flaw in how our poor characters are killing the 'Walkers' based on the episode where the gang see an MRI scan of how this zombie pathogen takes hold of the mind. It is in this episode, where two things are confirmed. Zombies once turned have no capability of drawing up memories, feelings or emotions simply because those aspects of the brain are dead. Secondly the only parts reactivated after death were the brain stem and parts of the medulla oblongata. 

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But why those two parts of the brain? Quite genius really. Our brain stem and medulla oblongata are responsible for controlling the bear necessities, heartbeat, movement and hunger so- perfect zombie behaviour! OK, so what this means is that the only true way of killing the zombie is not by hacking them in the part of the brain that is already dead, no you need to target your aim to the base of the skull and keep hacking. 

Moving along .... thats not what I really wanted to share with you guys. I was hoping that 'Fear the Walking Dead' would explain how this whole apocalyptic world originated, however, it appears this is not in the cards. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to tell you guys about my hypotheses 'On the Origin of The Walking Dead' be warned a bit of this inspiration was helped along by my favourite zombie movie 'World War Z'. So with that lets think it through!

1. Definitely not a virus even if it behaves like viral meningitis:  

Viruses always want the healthiest host! Yeah I know considering they do not benefit the organism they infect you think they would be happy with what they get, afraid not. What this means is that the remaining population after this outbreak should be those with terminal ailments whether it be an infection or malnutrition, similar to that seen in World War Z. As far as we know, this outbreak has been indiscriminate. So, virus? unlikely.

2. Possibly fungal?

Fungi- the glorious kingdom of fungi. Fungi are largely underestimated they happen to be responsible for some of natures weirdest and often scariest moments. Probably one of the best fungi to tell you guys about is the case of the 'Zombie Ant'. Meet Ophiocordyceps unilateralis  and its poor victim the ant. This fungal pathogen completes its life cycle by infecting the perfect host. It all starts when an ant comes across one of the fungal spores, the fungi infect the ants body and slowly begins its path right up to the ants brain. When there, it gets to making the perfect chemical cocktail... you know the deadly kind. This mixture of chemicals hijacks the central nervous system of its victim causing it to climb to a very high spot on a tree and clamp down. To finish it all off, the fungus grows a spore releasing stalk that explodes out the back of the victims head and the process begins all over again!

Yes, definitely nature at her best and worst. From looking at this life cycle there is a clear fault in trying to pin down the walking dead as being caused by a pathogen of some sort whether it be fungal, viral or bacterial. It lacks the transmission incentive. Think about it, every pathogen shares this in common with the other, that evolutionary drive to spread and infect more. The zombies in the walking dead, simply want to kill and eat, but why would a fungus let alone any pathogen want their host to kill and disembowel a potential other host? It wouldn't. So, it could be safe to say pathogen is off the table.

3. My theory!

OK guys this is the one that I have been excited about since Second Year of Biology. What if this zombie apocalypse is down to our genomes? Lets cast our mind back to the age of the dinosaurs or the age of the wooly mammoth both of which were brought to an abrupt end by mother nature who decided 'your time is up'.  

Now, stick with me guys this may get complicated. The era we live in has been named as the 'Anthropocene' this is because as a race, man kind has manipulated the earths geological and atmospheric processes. In addition to this, we have been the driving force behind many species extinctions and thanks to human induced climate change we are pushing more species closer to the edge. What if Nature decided that this is it? this is our time up? How best to get every single person on the planet? Well, what is the one thing that we all have regardless of colour, religion and sexuality- our genome. Imagine mother natures version of a 'kill switch' hidden inside everyone of our genomes, the same thing that we owe our evolutionary success to, the very thing that led us to be the dominating species on the planet- used against us. The global scientific community is continually providing evidence for the inevitability for the worlds sixth mass extinction event, and the species likely to go extinct... but, what if this mass extinction is reserved for us? 

Our atmosphere has been greatly altered through the exploitation of fossil fuels and release of pollutants, it is no great surprise that this presents us with novel environmental conditions. Is it completely out of the question that the trigger point for the apocalyptic world we see in the series was caused by a combination of the environment and other factors. Similar to the concept of the perfect storm, all these factors coming together just right, to activate that portion of our genome. Varying expression of genetic traits based on internal or external stimuli is not an unheard of science, in fact, quite the opposite it is called the field of epigenetic' and it is amazing! An activation point in our genome, or the expression of a certain gene or genes lead to the dramatic downward spiral of our civilisation. This would explain why everybody has it, as well as the bodies change in its internal environment (i.e. chemicals present) being the final trigger for the full expression of the disease whether it be through a bite or a natural/grizzly death. 
Interestingly, an article recently found that our genome is not 100% made up of 'human' DNA but contains fragments of viral codes! What does this mean? Well, in short - we all have a dormant archaic virus within our genome like a ticking time bomb. Suddenly my crazy hypothesis is not so crazy.

Alright guys you have just had a sneak peak into my mind, and yes science is on it all the time! You think it would get quite tiring but... It doesn't!! Guys as always have an amazeballs weekend!

Over and out

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