What has multiple legs, climbs trees, and turns to goo? Yep, zombie caterpillars. Scientists at Penn State have discovered a single gene that turns caterpillars from cute, crawling creatures, to brain dead zombies.
The Daily Mail reports that caterpillars will typically climb a tree to feed. When they are done feeding they return to the ground to hide from predators. But zombie caterpillars, ones that have been infected by the baculovirus, are reprogrammed. Zombie caterpillars don’t return to the ground after feeding. Instead, the virus causes them to stay up in the tree, melts them, and turns them into goo. The melted caterpillar drips down onto the ground and infects others.
Researcher Kelli Hoover, writes:
“When (the caterpillars) are infected, as they get sicker they stay up in the trees and die up there. There are other genes in the virus that then make the caterpillar melt.
“So it becomes a pool of millions of virus particles that end up dropping onto the foliage below where it can infect other moths that eat those leaves.”
Hoover, who published his research in the journal Science, says that the gene that causes zombie caterpillars is called egt. The research team was able to successfully stop caterpillars from turning into zombies by removing the gene.
Hoover and his team infected two groups of caterpillars with the baculovirus, but removed the egt gene for one batch of caterpillars. The group that was denied the egt still died a gooey death, but they died on the floor and not up in the tree like the group that was given the zombie gene.
Scientists previously discovered a parasite that turns ants into zombies… so when is someone going to turn those tine zombies into a horror b-movie? The attack of the killer zombie caterpillars… I’d see that.