If you’re a fan of the popular television show The Last of Us, you’re probably already familiar with the deadly fungus known as Cordyceps. But what exactly is Cordyceps? And how does it spread?

Understanding Fungus

Fungus can grow in a wide range of environments, including aquatic habitats such as seawater and freshwater, terrestrial habitats such as soil and plants, as well as on animals, human skin, and even on the tiniest crevices of personal belongings. They play an important role in many ecosystems as decomposers and recyclers of organic matter.

Cordyceps’ Parasitic Powers

Cordyceps have recently gained a lot of attention due to their appearance in the hit video game and TV series, The Last of Us. In the show, the Cordyceps fungus mutates and becomes parasitic to humans, leading to a post-apocalyptic world overrun by infected individuals. While this is purely fictional, it highlights the fascinating and potentially dangerous properties of this type of fungus.

Cordyceps is a type of parasitic fungus that infects insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. Once inside the hosts body, the fungus takes over and begins to manipulate its behaviour, forcing it to move to a suitable location for the fungus to grow and reproduce. The infected being becomes a puppet-like creature controlled by the fungus.

Cordyceps spores land on an insect’s exoskeleton and penetrate it using hydrolytic enzymes, which provide nutrients for the fungus to divide and grow germ tubes into the host insect. The fungus secretes a neurotoxin that affects the insect’s behaviour and muscles, turning it into a “zombie” that climbs to a high point and attaches itself. The insect eventually dies, and an antenna-like mushroom grows from its head. The fungus spreads throughout the insect’s body, preserving it and allowing multiple mushrooms to sprout. Sacs called ascus form on these mushroom stalks which produce and rapidly replicate spores until the pressure becomes too high and they burst, scattering the spores and restarting the process.

Scientists have been studying the fascinating Cordyceps for years. In fact, Cordyceps has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, as it’s believed to have a range of health benefits.

What are the benefits of Cordyceps?

Cordyceps is not just a parasitic fungus, thanks to research, it has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Some of which include boosting immune function, reducing inflammation, and improving exercise performance (Ashraf et al., 2020).

Cordyceps contain several bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides (carbohydrates found in plant-based foods) and cordycepin (the compound that provides health benefits), that together create a product with health-promoting properties. The research has shown that Cordyceps can increase the production of immune cells and improve their function, which helps to protect the body against infections and diseases (Daba, G (2020).

cordyceps benefits

Overall, Cordyceps are a fascinating type of fungus that have impressive abilities to survive through their parasitic relationship with insects. They also have potential health benefits to humans. While they may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, they are very real and continue to be studied by scientists around the world. So next time you come across a Cordyceps fungus, take a moment to appreciate the complexity of the natural world and the incredible organisms that inhabit it.


Ashraf, S. A., Elkhalifa, A. E., Siddiqui, A. J., Patel, M., Awadelkareem, A. M., Snoussi, M., Ashraf, M. S., Adnan, M., & Hadi, S. (2020). Cordycepin for Health and wellbeing: A potent bioactive metabolite of an entomopathogenic medicinal fungus cordyceps with its nutraceutical and therapeutic potential. Molecules, 25(12).

Daba, G. (2020). The endless nutritional and pharmaceutical benefits of the Himalayan gold, Cordyceps; Current knowledge and prospective potentials. Asian Journal of Natural Product Biochemistry, 18(2).

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