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Exploring the Inspiration Behind The Last of Us: Real-Life Fungi and Their Effects

The popular video game and HBO show The Last of Us has drawn inspiration from a real life species of fungus for its zombie-like characters.[0] This species of fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, is able to “mind control” its ant hosts by digesting the ant’s body from the inside out. After one or two weeks, the fungus produces a fruiting body inside the zombie ant that bursts and spreads spores on the forest floor, creating more zombie ants in the process.[1]

The effects of this fungus on its insect hosts are eerily similar to the effects of the fictional “zombie fungus” on humans in The Last of Us. But, as Dentinger points out, there are actually species of fungi that can alter a human’s mental processing, such as psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms.”[0] Furthermore, other kinds of fungi are already ubiquitous in human life, such as yeast, which is found in bread and in the human gut.[0]

The Last of Us may have been inspired by a real-life fungus, but it is still a fictional story, and one that has captivated audiences with its thrilling tale of survival against impossible odds.

0. “The zombie fungus from ‘The Last Of Us’ is real — but not nearly as deadly” KALW, 30 Jan. 2023,

1. “HBO’s Newest Zombie Series is Inspired By Real-Life Zombie Fungi” Totally The Bomb, 25 Jan. 2023,

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