Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Infectious Prions & the Mad Munchies

During my visit to the fantastic Eastwood High School in Glasgow I was asked an interesting question by a Zombiology student. Why aren’t infectious prions broken down in the stomach?

Those of you aware of my Zombieism research will know my focus has been on how a prion disease similar to Kuru or variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease could bring about Zombieism.

Most of you will also be familiar with the theory that vCJD or the ‘human form of mad cow disease’ was brought about by eating BSE infected animal products. The same goes for Kuru; it was widely spread by the practice of cannibalism.

So why are our super strong stomachs not as capable of coping with these infectious prions as they are with jalapenos?

Well the normal form of the prion protein is produced naturally in all mammals and is harmless. However altered forms of these prion proteins can become infectious agents. Usually when a foreign agent enters our bodies, through ingestion or otherwise, our immune system recognises it as a threat and attacks it.

Prickly prions appear however to be masters of disguise. It may be that they are absorbed through the gut wall where they then pass themselves off to the immune as something helpful to the body. Once inside they begin to multiply at lymphoid sites and start the journey through the nervous system to the brain.

So the reason that infectious prions aren’t broken down in our body is because our immune system doesn’t recognise them as a threat.

Rogue prions are resistant wee beasties, bear in mind with acquired cases of Kuru & vCJD infected meat would have been cooked thoroughly first. This also demonstrates why a flame-thrower is probably the worst weapon for a zombie outbreak and why the best is still science.   
 Check out this great wee website for more on prions:

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Necrosis, not just a good name for a death metal band

Hello Zombiology Students,
This week I had the honour of giving a lecture to the fine members of G-Gnomes, the Genetics & Molecular Biology Society at the University of Glasgow. 

A student named Kyle asked me if Necrosis might play a role in Zombieism. Due to a recent feather duster related blow to the head I was unable to provide him with an answer at the time but now, thanks to my third year students, I can.

We're all shedding cells faster than Katie Price sheds blokes, around a 50 - 70 billion are replaced every day. The normal process of cells dying is known as Apoptosis. Certain circumstances, such as infections, cancer and spider bites amongst other things, can bring about the condition Necrosis in our cells.

Necrosis causes our cells to break down in a disorganized manner. It is very different from what happens to our bodies when they normally die.

As you can see in the picture on the right this poor fellow has suffered a rather nasty spider bite. His leg most certainly looks as if it'd waltz through any zombie audition. Actually he wouldn't. His leg was amputated from the knee up shortly after this picture was taken.

My point is that if a zombie did suffer from Necrosis and went untreated he would soon virtually disintegrate. Just as a decomposing one would. Luckily unlike decomposition Necrosis can be treated.

That's the great thing about studying Zombieism, it's always taking us down new avenues. Sure the people in those avenues might try and eat our brains but hey, that's the middle class for you.

Thanks to the G-Gnomes for having me and Kyle for his question.

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Marking bites and so do zombies

It has been a very exciting week here at Z.I.T.S. We made the first definite confirmation of dates for my forthcoming lecture tour 'Zombie Science 1Z'. It will be on at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow, Scotland on the 17th,24th,31st of March and 7th April 2011. For more details visit the official site (

I hurriedly began preparations for my power point presentation which as you will know is the heart of a good lecture. I remember acetate sheets. I was always printing them upside down, threw thousands of them away. Unfortunately I had 400 student exams to mark before I could begin. I decided to give them all a pass to save me time and the students stress.

I find it really exciting when you are forced to distil points for a slide. It forces you to focus on the basics. When you see ideas across a series of slides you see the connections that exist between things.

Taking a zombie's most famous past time, biting. This single action can tell us scientists so much about it. Biting is how zombieism is traditionally passed on. This indicates it has to be some kind of virus or disease.

If zombieism were a genetic condition they only method of making more zombies is for it to reproduce.

No matter how much you might have had to drink tonight it is highly unlikely you have slept with a zombie and are pregnant with its undead child. On the off chance you have woken up next to one and neglected to use contraception you'd better head down the supermarket and stock up on puree of brain.

Doctor Austin Z.I.T.S is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Why Halloween Bites

In a little under half hour it will become October 31st 2010. 

As a student of Zombiology you will no doubt anticipate that this is a good day for Zombies. The equivalent of Christmas. But images of a Zombie Santa stuffing tasty brains into stockings made from severed human appendages aside Halloween might scientifically be the prime moment for a Zombieism outbreak.

Most Zombies pass on Zombieism by biting, much like Rabies. Repulsive as this may seem it is not a particularly good way to pass on a virus or disease. If Zombieism could be passed through the air a sneezing zombie would be far more daunting than a biting one. 

Because it would be easy to identify the human carrying Zombieism (i.e. the pale bloke biting random passers by) stemming an outbreak would be quite simple (i.e. kill them, kill them all.)

However under the cover of All Hallows Eve someone infected with Zombieism might succeed in biting more unsuspecting victims before they realise it isn't part of the evenings scheduled entertainment. 

So Doctor Austin says, "remember kids don't let zombies be the trick in your treat on Halloween. Always carry a weapon capable of easily bludgeoning the human skull."

Happy Horror-Days!

Doctor Austin Z.I.T.S is chair of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and a world renowned Zombiologist 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Why your unlikely to be pursued by a severed Zombie Appendage

It has no doubt crossed your mind that if bitten on a limb by a Zombie the best solution to prevent yourself contracting Zombieism is to remove that appendage with the nearest chainsaw.  

If it worked in Evil Dead 2 or Idle Hands then it's bound to work for you,but it has a downside. In both of these films the limb then reanimated and pursued it's previous owner and friends with a murderous vengeance. (It might also take time out to cup some boobies, according to Idle Hands.)
However the latest research here at the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies indicates otherwise. In most animals, including humans, motor functions are controlled by the brain. It is the command centre sending signals down the spine. There is no replacement or substitute part within the human body. Without creating new motor control areas (brains) within the severed appendages there is no possibility of them becoming ‘alive’ independent of the body. 

It should be noted that if a zombie’s head is severed from its body and the brain is not destroyed the head will still pose a risk. 

Our tests are ongoing but for the moment it seems you are free to lop off body parts safe in the knowledge they won't return to brutally murder you later (or feel up your girlfriend).

Doctor Austin Z.I.T.S is chair of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and a world renowned Zombiologist