30 August 2011

The Rise of the Zombie Empire: Resistance is Futile

They walk freely among us, unheeded. Infected by brain parasites, behaviours subtly altered. Two billion infected, and counting.
Zombies are popular fictional examples of brain alteration that is usually caused by a biological agent. But inside every fiction is the kernel of truth. Zombies are so popular in part because they are uncomfortably familiar.
LaughingSquid

At least two billion people worldwide are infected by the protozoan, many from eating infected meat. Initial symptoms are mild flu, after which the parasite forms cysts that lodge in the brain. There they remain for decades... _NYT
Two recent studies reveal how microbes can alter normal brain functioning. Researchers from California and Singapore detailed how the protozoan Toxoplasma Gondii is capable of blunting normal fear responses to threat in animals. Canadian and Irish researchers have discovered a mind-altering effect from probiotic bacteria -- specifically, a species of lactobacillus. The lactobacillus was found to lower stress, anxiety, and depression related behaviours in mice.

Microbes can change our brains, and make us somehow different. In extreme cases -- as in brain-eating amoeba or fatal encephalitis and meningitis -- they can kill our brains outright. But sometimes they kill or disable only a portion of our brains, and leave us alive, but altered. And sometimes they live inside of us, changing us chemically by their metabolic excreta.

These are not the "borg" of fiction. There are no brain implants or electrodes controlling us. But biology is much stranger than we understand. We can go to Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters," for a vivid fictional account of extraterrestrial invaders able to attach to humans, growing tentacles into human brains and spinal cords. That would be an extreme example of biological control of humans by "the other."

Far more subtle, and easier to bring about, would be genetically controlled microbes able to insert themselves into particular parts of the brain, to bring about neurochemical alterations -- either temporary or permanent. By targeting the brain region of choice, behaviours could be manipulated according to an overall plan or scheme.

Even easier, would be normal body flora genetically altered to secrete brain-altering chemicals, such as benzodiazepine or amphetamine. Something a little extra in your yogurt or your moisturizing cream. Schools, prisons, and armies should take special note.

We are far beyond the skills needed for such simple manipulations. And given the apparent state control of modern popular media and scientific publishing, who would know -- or be able to say anything about it?

Here is how to make your own yogurt. Just in case. Some of us may not be infected yet. There may be safe retreats left, far from the teeming mobs. It may not be too late......Heh.



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