I’ve written about mind-controlling parasites and I’ve also written about ants a couple of times, but for some reason I still haven’t written about the famous “zombie ants“. These fascinating, macabre little wonders are ants that have been infected by a fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) which manipulates their behaviour. The fungus makes the ant climb up at plant stalk and bite into the underside of a leaf, clinging to it in a death grip. The fungus then kills the ant, consuming its innards before sending a reproductive stalk out through the corpse’s head.
I recently found out about an exciting research project looking into how the fungus manages its manipulation of the ant. Charissa de Bekker, a post-doc at Penn State University, is using Microryza to crowdfund her project, which will investigate what genes are active in the fungus’ manipulation of the ant. Since I think it’s an awesome project, I invited her to answer a few questions about herself and her work. Read on to find out what she has to say, and if you think the project sounds interesting or useful, consider backing it on Microryza — she’s got 11 days left to reach her goal! Continue reading