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Oddly Microbial: Prions

Prions can turn their victims into zombies—they punch holes in their brains and steal their souls. The infected stumble about, might take a bite out of someone if hungry, certainly don’t think straight and, most important, lose their memories and with them the very essence of their humanity or “soul.” Zombie enthusiast and Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman made the connection and has even written a science fiction novel, soon to be a film, about a prion-caused apocalypse called The Zombie Autopsies. In the book, influenza-like viruses with prion payloads, possibly concocted by mad scientists, cause a zombie pandemic that kill off a goodly portion of the planet’s humans; but not before the newly minted zombies stagger about trying to eat, and likely infecting, anyone they manage to fall into. Schlozman’s hypothetical disease, “ANSD” or Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, is readily transmitted by coughing or sneezing.

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