Puppet-master fungus hijacks flies, kills them from inside out

Researchers are investigating a fungus that infects fruit flies and steers them to their deaths like a gruesome puppeteer.


NSFW    BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — Scientists have identified a fungal pathogen that hijacks hapless fruit flies and puppeteers them to their death.

According to new research from UC Berkeley, when the fungus known as entomophthora muscae infects fruit flies, it infiltrates the nervous system early on.

The host insect remains seemingly unaffected while the fungus feeds off its fat stores, but begins acting abnormally once the pathogen invades and destroys its organs.

Eventually, the fly is forced to climb to an elevated spot, where the fungus grows out of its proboscis and sticks to the surface it's on, cementing it in place.

The fly is then made to raise its wings to a 90-degree angle before dying, allowing new spores to be ejected from its exposed abdomen to infect new hosts.

The existence of the fungus, whose scientific name means "destroyer of insects", has been known for over a hundred years. Similar pathogens exists that hijack ants and aphids, but scientists have yet to figure out how exactly how.

The Berkeley researchers are especially curious about how the puppet-master fungus gets the fly to override survival instincts and climb to its death, and are now focusing their efforts to uncover the answer.
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