Thursday, 31 October 2013

The walking viral-microbial-fungal dead

I've just finished watching the first season of "The Walking Dead", yes I know, where have I been, there are already 4 seasons so hey no spoilers everyone. But what a series it is! Exciting stuff and I can't wait to spend another 12 hours today getting through the 2nd season.

The zombies will be amongst us once more for this year's Halloween. Tonight will bring the rise of pasty white faces, fake blood and calls for "braaaaains". Thankfully, not the actual flesh eating, party spoiling type but more the we like to get our drunk on kind. But what is it that makes those guys on The Walking Dead so antisocial?

The last two episodes of the first season gave us a big insight into the science behind the zombification that has plagued the world. The team end up at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) where Dr Jenner is the last scientist standing. He seems to have a pretty neat set-up with voice activated computers and a top notch lab. So good is his equipment that through a standard bench top microscope he can see DNA. Yes DNA, that stuff in everyone's cells that is only a few billionths of a millimetre thick. Wow, I only wish I had access to that kind of kit. He later shows the other guys a video of Test Subject 19, with the "MRI virtual camera" and we see the brain activity dying out and coming back before he shoots a bullet through the patient's head. He fired a gun in an MRI machine! That could not have done the equipment much good, no wonder they hadn't made much progress.

Despite the cutting edge work that was obviously possible at the CDC, Dr Jenner admitted that they didn't really know anything. "It could microbial, viral, parasitic, fungal ... or the wrath of god!" Well, from the earlier microscope view I'd put my money on viral. Other (real) viral diseases like HIV and influenza are so difficult to treat due to the complicated nature of how they attack cells and mutations constantly altering them. Viruses are of course not treatable with common antibiotics and without proper hospitals available the infection will no doubt kill you fairly quickly. Luckily for us, in a "real" zombie attack, all that rotting flesh would fall prey to Nature's excellent ability to clean up the dead.

These scenes really made me laugh out loud. A nice attempt by the show to bring some actual science to it that was maybe lacking but maybe not needed. Always fun to see them try though and can only be a good thing for making people aware of current (more likely far in the future) technology and that in an apocalypse science is still very important. Also if you want to do research whilst the world is ending, then go to France, apparently those guys can last the longest.

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