People often ask us whether a “zombie virus” actually exists. Of course, it doesn’t… at least not yet. Scientists would have to combine a number of different diseases, pathogens, and viruses to even come close; and most of these deadly bugs don’t play well together. They’re simply not designed to be compatible. However, according to a research paper published last week by Cell, we now have evidence that the viruses themselves have evolved. Some phages have even learned to work together, ultimately defeating the natural defenses of our DNA!
Edze Westra and Stineke van Houte at the University of Exeter have discovered that certain viruses, known as bacteriophages, have developed new ways of outmaneuvering the CRISPR system, which is basically our bacterium’s best line of defense against foreign DNA. To put it simply; they’ve learned how sacrificing themselves will allow others to achieve victory.
…Acr-phages often need to cooperate in order to overcome CRISPR resistance, with a first phage blocking the host CRISPR-Cas immune system to allow a second Acr-phage to successfully replicate. This cooperation leads to epidemiological tipping points in which the initial density of Acr-phage tips the balance from phage extinction to a phage epidemic.
That’s some heady stuff, so be sure to read it again paying special attention to their last point; one of the simplest biological entities is now able to employ a sophisticated military strategy of retreating, evolving, and eventually overwhelming its enemy. Obviously it’s all just clinical research at this point, but God help us if we ever encounter a perfect storm of deadly viruses that suddenly decide to cooperate, collaborate, and work together. The possibility of such an apocalyptic event is too much for any respectable zombie researcher to simply ignore!
Just imagine gangrene wearing down our immune system to clear the way for Ebola or rabies, maybe throw in mad cow disease, swine flu, or some deadly variation thereof; all purposefully holding back their worst elements to allow the other to take hold. Gross rotting flesh, violent tendencies, memory loss; it certainly seems like the perfect recipe for a zombie apocalypse.
Some may say that this is hyperbole and the science is improbable, even impossible. But it’s our job to think outside the box, and history itself has a nasty habit of throwing the scientific community a curve-ball every once in awhile. So we recommend that you read the original research paper online available via Cell, or check out this detailed article by The Economist, for more information… after all, what you don’t know can eat you!