Thursday, 1 December 2011

Walking Dead Rise of the Governor: Competition Winners

Greetings Zombiology Students,

The big moment is here, time to announce the winners of the Walking Dead competition. It wasn’t easy, picking just four out of all your wonderful entries. Well some were wonderful, some were down right terrifying, the things you people would do in this event, my word!

It was somewhat disappointing that nearly every entry came down on the side of violence. In fact no one at all suggested finding a cure. At least I know good old Hershel is with me on this. Well maybe not after last week’s episode!

I realize she doesn't look like my wife anymore, but the sex is still the same
So without further ado, here they are:

‘Naturally, knee capping my partner ala Shane to buy me time would certainly be an easy/quick option. However, since it's early in the outbreak I would look for the nearest manhole cover to secure my hasty retreat!’


‘If I found myself surrounded by zombies closing in during the outbreak in Atlanta, I would first pop open the trunk (boot) to the nearest vehicle(s) and grab a tire iron. It should be the most common to find hardened implement in a street setting to defend myself with and also is a handy tool. It can be used with leverage to force open padlocks or chains on locked gates, and to smash windows for access to vehicles and buildings.  I'd also grab a flashlight being another common item in a car, and essential to my initial escape plan. Lacking that, I'd use a lighter or matches.  I'm now minimally equipped with two items- tool/weapon and light source (potential for fire).

Given a downtown scenario in a large metropolitan area, I doubt I'd last long in the streets and nearby buildings would be likely to house more zombies or potentially dangerous panicked civilians. My hunch would be that at the onset of an outbreak, the least likely place to encounter zombies or other folks would be in the sewer system. If I could access a manhole cover with advance time, I'd use the tire iron for leverage and to help close the lid when descending.  The most important thing at this point would be to get my bearings straight so that I know what street direction I'm facing and to align myself as closely as possible to the direction of the assumed "safe" house. If I do encounter zombies in tunnel, the slight advantage I have is being able to defend myself without being quickly outnumbered and surrounded as I would be on the streets above.

Of course in the unlikely event that I'm outnumbered by zombies in both directions of a tunnel, I'm pretty much done for. But you can't live by giving up, so I would fight to the next manhole access and work on a plan B, by skipping across the tops of car rooftops. I'd also do this given no time to get tools or access to a sewer manhole. Zombies would likely be on the street itself, not as agile to quickly climb up a vehicle and would not be found posing across the tops of engine hoods like Tawny Kitaen in a Whitesnake video. Moving across the top of vehicles where possible would also provide better visibility and help identify an escape path.

Once safe from the immediate threat of large numbers of zombies in downtown Atlanta, I'd seek the long term needs such as food, water, medical supplies, better weapons, and transportation.’


‘As it is likely to be taking place during the day (people would be less inclined to venture out in the dark), I can assume that the outbreak has attracted the attention of the emergency services, at first to secure the area, and latterly to evacuate the survivors. Knowing this would also indicate that some emergency servicemen have fallen to the horde; police officers, ambulance workers and fireman to name but a few.

With this in mind, my first instinct would be to find the nearest police squad car, always careful that there isn't any infected officers nearby, or worse; an infected prisoner inside. As with all US Police Squad cars, they come standard equipped with a Police Scanner, a GPS, and a 12 Gauge Shotgun in the trunk. Upon hatching the trunk and freeing the shotgun from its hold, I would now be armed and, whether I had to hotwire the car or was lucky enough to find the keys nearby, I would have my escape vehicle.
I guess this stuff is practical, but I was really hoping for a crispy cream 
After clearing the surrounding area of any infected, I would drive to a nearby safe spot, not the Safe House suggested. From here I'd be close enough to hold back for any survivors, but far away from the immediate danger of the Zombie Horde. Using the Police Scanner/CB Radio, I would track and locate any potential safe zone, and/or confirm just how safe the aforementioned safe house actually is. With this information, and any potential survivors I have come across/saved in the interim, I would head to a nearby store for supplies.

At the store, shotgun in hand, I would grab some emergency supplies; tinned food, bottled water, first aid kits being the primary targets. Once supplied, I would return to the car and base my next destination on my earlier investigation; NOT on the impulsive suggestions of any would be heroes now attached to my convoy. 

If I was challenged by any of my fellow survivors, I would ram the butt of my gun into the naysayer's face, breaking their nose and firmly establishing who was in charge. Now, with the survivors knowing I am calling the shots, we could retreat to my desired destination with a vehicle, weapon and supplies.’  


‘I wouldn’t try to escape but rather get bitten and become one with my zombie family, embracing the zombieness for its benefits; no more concern about appearance, bills or the stress of the daily grind. Why are zombie’s always the bad guys, they are neither good nor bad, they just are.’


A brand new copy of the book is winging its way to you all now.

Don’t forget to also pick up the official Zombie Sciencebook on Amazon now

I really wanted a bike, but thanks anyway honey
What better gift to give a loved one this Christmas than the gift of survival.  

Best wishes,

Doctor Austin
Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor: Book Review & Competition

Happy Halloween Zombiology Students,

For a wee treat I'm taking a break from the science journals to review an exciting new novel from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. He's teamed up with acclaimed thriller writer Jay Bonansinga to tell us the back story of infamous comic book character, the Governor.

They've certainly set themselves a challenge. Can a notoriously nasty man like Philip Blake find his way into reader's hearts?

Rise of the Governor takes us back to the start of zombie outbreak where we find Philip, his daughter Penny, brother Brian and two high school friends fighting for survival.

During the story our band of survivors take a terrifying trip across the country trying to reach Atlanta and the supposed safety of refugee camps. But in true Walking Dead style, anything, and everything, gets in their way.

Personally I adore the Walking Dead world, and would go as far as to say it's the best imagining of a zombie world since my old pal Georgey Romero created Night of the Living Dead. Kirkman has even given the nod that Romero was his inspiration in forming the world.

As a scientist I too think it's better that little is said about the biological cause of the Zombieism in the Walking Dead. It allows you to theorise with your imagination instead of nit picking your way through reams of illogical made up science. Yes, it might not be possible at present for people to rise from the dead, but, maybe it will happen in future...

If you're a fan of the comic books and the epic, movie style-esque dramatic imagery - don't worry, Rise of the Governor doesn't disappoint. The authors have given careful consideration to mis-en-scene with every blow, slice, stab and shot colourfully described from 'a mop head slapping the floor' to 'the two bodies are launched in a cloud of pink mist.'

An ensemble of characters emerge across the journey. A favourite for me was the Chalmers Family Band, led by Father David and his two daughters, Tara and April. The latter of whom forms an almost romantic relationship with Philip. Here Kirkman does what he does best,  give us real hope, only to snatch it away and leave us lower than ever before.

The tale ends with an unexpected twist, one I of course won't reveal here. I read many reviews that have strong feelings on this, but personally, I have no opinion on it. It's the creative path they choose to follow and I was happy with where it led. No doubt these talented writers could write their way down any avenue they want to explore. In part, the ending does help to answer the question I posed at the outset.

The ending does feel like a hard stop, but this novel is but the first of a trilogy from this new deadly duo, something I for one will be eagerly awaiting. So rather than the end, it's more of a to be continued...

Overall The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor successfully brings the concept to its third medium, and unlike it's screen and graphic incarnations the fact it's purely text lets the reader create the visuals. It's fast paced, addictive and often amusing. For me it's essence is summed up by an elderly gentleman met towards the end of the novel:

It ain't the dead things you gotta be mindful of around's the living.

Pan MacMillan have very kindly given us several copies of The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor for you to win. For your chance to get one send an email to with your name, postal address and answer to this question:

You find yourself alone and unarmed on an Atlanta street during the Walking Dead zombie outbreak. Zombie's close in from all sides. The safe house is still a few blocks away. How would you escape?

Whilst this plan might allow you to pull, it might also cost you your face

The most creative answers win, closing date Monday 28th November 2011, at midday.

Good luck and I hope tonight brings you more treats than tricks,

Doctor Austin
Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Can Zombies Love?

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening (delete as applicable) Zombiology Students,

This was the most non-explicit image I could find, and I don't recommend typing 'zombie love' into Google Images.
Today's blog is based on a question from John Burns. He asks, 'can zombies fall in love?' I take this to mean with each other, rather than with him, or at least that's what I hope.
This is by no means an easy question. Scientists have been trying for decades to unlock the mysteries of love and, with the exception of Doctor Rohynpnol (whose work is better left unmentioned), they haven't had much luck.

Excluding my ex-wife, the human brain is the most complex thing currently known of in our universe.
Doctor Austin with his ex-wife Mrs Doctor Austin
Many people say it functions like a powerful computer, but even this isn't an accurate comparison, because we can't yet build a computer that works like our brains.
Similarly it is hard to say that one part of the brain is responsible for just one function. Movement for example is controlled and regulated by many different parts of the brain, not just one.

Recent studies of people going through different types of love seems to bear this out as well.
'Brain regions with decidedly unromantic names, like the dorsolateral middle frontal gyrus and the anterior cingulate, as well chemicals like nerve growth factor, dopamine and oxytocin, are all involved in orchestrating these feelings of love.' (Dobson, 2010)

The human brain in love, or playing Call of Duty, I get diagrams easily confused
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter I've nicknamed 'Brain Crack', is thought to be prime player in love. Known for producing a variety of positive feelings dopamine has shown some interesting qualities during animal tests.  

'When a female prairie vole was paired with a male, dopamine levels went up 50 per cent. Levels of oxytocin, (the so-called "cuddle hormone", released in response to stimuli including skin-to-skin contact) likewise go up, as do levels of vasopressin, both promoting relationship bonding. When the female vole was injected with a drug that blocks the activity of dopamine, she lost interest in him.' (Dobson, 2010)

Now we know a little more about what love is doing in the brain, let's apply it to our zombies. Here at the Institute we think zombies will most likely be caused by a new type of prion disease, similar to human mad cow disease (vCJD). All prion diseases cause a unique form of 'spongiform' damage to the brain giving it the appearance of a sponge, or block of Swiss cheese. We also predict that Zombieism prion disease will cause a loss of memory and human personality, giving zombies their trademark absentminded attitude and vacant persona.
Spongiformity in the brain, looks like an Aero, but my gosh it doesn't taste like one.
If we combine these assertions together it doesn't paint a very promising picture for zombies falling in love with each other. Ultimately they won't remember what love is nor have the capacity to make it.

So the answer to John's question, 'can zombies fall in love' is no. No they cannot.

The android Data, from Star Trek, also cannot love. Well except in that one episode, but I never saw it.
Rather than leave on a negative I'll instead share with you some more hopeful lyric's from the Zombie Institute's resident songwriter, Aaron Stoquert:

''cause I don't care, I don't care what you look like tonight
I don't care, I don't care, what you feel like tonight
I don't care, I don't care if we're alive tonight
can you stay here throughout the night--be right next to me?' - (Stoquert, 2011)    

Thanks again for your question John, and everyone else keep yours coming in to:  

Best wishes,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK.

See the Zombie Science 1Z lecture live at:

Manchester Science Festival 2011
Tuesday 25th October 2011
International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House, 3 Cambridge St, Manchester, M1 5BY
Times: 11:00, 14:00, 16:00 (11/2/4pm)
Price: Free (must be booked in advance) Ages 13+

Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford
Wednesday 26th October 2011
Info: Doctor Austin will be delivering a public lecture before signing copies of his book alongside Zombie Handbook UK author Sean T Page.
Blackwells Bookshop, Broad St, Oxford, England, OX1 3BQ
Times: 1900 (7pm) Ages 13+

British & European Society for Gene Therapy Conference - Public Engagement Day
Thursday 27th October 2011
Info: Doctor Austin delivers an all new Zombie Science 1G: Gene Therapy lecture on genetics and gene therapy.
The Brighton Centre, Brighton, England
Times: 1300 (1pm)
Price: Free (Just turn up) Ages 13+

Dundee Science Festival 2011
Saturday 29th October 2011
Venue: 13+ Show: Dalhousie Building,          
             University of Dundee, DD1 4HN
             18+ Show: Dundee University              
             Students Union, Carnegie Suite,
             Airlie Place, DD1 4HP
Times: 13+ Show: 1400 (2pm)
            18+ Show: 1900 (7pm)
Price: Free (must be booked in advance)
Click here for the official Festival website & Click here for the Official Site or call (01382) 38 44 13

London Horror Festival 2011
Tuesday 15th November – Thursday 17th November 1930 (7.30pm)
The Courtyard Studio, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, London, N1 6EU
Booking line:  +44 (0) 844 477 1000


Anon. (2011) Dopamine, Psychology Today, accessed on 02/10/2011

Dobson, Roger. (2010) Love on the Brain, Independent on Sunday, accessed on 02/10/2011

Fischetti, Mark. (2011) Your Brain in Love, Scientific American, accessed on 02/10/2011

Fisher, Helen. (2004) Biology: Your Brain in Love, Time Magazine,,9171,993160-1,00.html accessed on 02/10/2011

Ortigue, Stephanie, et al. (2010) Neuroimaging of Love: fMRI Meta-Analysis Evidence toward New Perspectives in Sexual Medicine, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 7, Issue 11, p.3541 - 3552,

Stoquert, Aaron. (2011) I'll See You Again, Run for your Life EP, FiveOhfour Entertainment,  [Music Recording]

Friday, 16 September 2011

Zombie Romance

Hello there Zombiology Students,

Despite the title of today’s ZomBlog we’re not going to be informing you about safe sexual practice with zombies! I actually had the pleasure of being contacted by a Seattle based band, the Little Black Bottles, who have just released their second album, Let Them Eat Red Velvet Cake, which features some zombie related songs. 

Myke & Jackie Fedyk, I particularly love Myke's glasses!

Although usually reviewing research papers, today I’m taking time out to give my opinion on these musical musings on Zombieism.

The first track, Letter to Miguel, is based on one of the classic zombie films, Day of the Dead. Here I think we get an insight into the issue of science versus violence with regard to zombies. The lines, “Logan's gone insane, he thinks he's found a way they can be tamed, he's given one a name, and he keeps it in his lab on the end of a chain” shows that it’s hard to be a scientist during a zombie outbreak without everyone thinking you’re crazy. All because Dr. Logan is trying to make friends with Bub, a lovely young zombie and conducting important experiments with the zombified remains of some soldiers he is accused of going too far and is executed. 

Even Bub loves 'Letter to Miguel', well either that or Dr.Logan is conducting a probe...
Further through the song we start to get some brilliant advice for when the zombies truly arrive. “Well we all know there's no cure, and we gotta get out of this cave, and there's no way to fight it for sure, we gotta find an island that's safe.” Lots of sound advice here, as I always say, “you can always make new friends but there’s no cure for Zombieism”, until a cure is found don’t hesitate to use your friends as potential bait to allow you to escape. If you are unsure of the order to sacrifice them, start with the least famous, this is how they do it in Hollywood. The next line provides more sage advice, never trap yourself in a confined environment when zombies attack, it never ends well. A more open space, like the island suggested next, is far better. This way you can see zombies coming, as well as clear the area of them when you first arrive.

Overall I enjoy the cheeky and energetic tone of ‘Letter to Miguel’, the vocal styling’s of Myke Fedyk sound to me like a cross between an Irish folk song & 1970s punk, and like the zombie disease itself ‘Letter to Miguel’ is extremely catchy.

But our favourite track here at the Zombie Institute is by far, Zombie Romance. It deals beautifully with the tragic tale of someone left behind after their partner is turned into a zombie. The beautiful voice of singer, Jackie Fedyk, sets up the atmosphere of a sorrowful siren bringing a seriousness that adds to the humour.

But they are covering a pertinent ethical issue often overlooked during a zombie outbreak. How would you feel if you’re soul mate succumbed to the zombie disease? What would you do in the name of love? ‘Zombie Romance’ forces you to consider this. “Now you are lost to me a flesh eating zombie, in my dreams you chase me every night.”

Singer Jackie Fedyk brings a magnificent eeriness to 'Zombie Romance'
 Our protagonist then contemplates a severe course of action, “this plague killed your brain but does it kill your heart, if I'm a zombie too we won't have to be apart.” Becoming a zombie to join the one you love, it has such a tragic nobility to it all. More importantly this song illustrates why research and development into Zombieism cures is so crucial, people should never have to suffer the circumstances described in ‘Zombie Romance.’

Fans of the Marvel Zombies will be all too aware of how these issues affected Peter Parker, much to our annoyance.
Being a Zombiologist and not a fully qualified music critic I’ve stuck to the zombie-based tracks here, but the rest of the album is a lovely series of songs in the horror/sci-fi themed folk/pop/rock music genres and a great listen. 

Let Them Eat Red Velvet Cake Album Cover
You should definitely head over to the Little Black Bottles Official site ( and have a listen to their other work at their Bandcamp home as well. (                

Best wishes,

Doctor Austin

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

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Zombie Bludgeoning & You

Fit’ like Zombiology students,

Doc A lecturing on prion disease
I had the pleasure of delivering my Zombie Science lecture as part of the Wrexham Science Festival in Wales. Afterwards I was asked a most intriguing question by one of my students, Ms Flora Cat:

“What would I need to use to effectively clean up potentially (prion disease) infected material? I can double glove, but I don’t think I have a strong enough cleaner.”

Regular students will know that we believe zombies will be caused by a prion disease, similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). But what you might not know is that these prion diseases, as well as being hard to treat, are even harder to clean up.  CJD is a good example for us to use here because it comes in many forms. You will most likely have heard of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), often called human mad cow disease, the kind believed to have been caused by people eating meat infected with mad cow disease. 

Another type is Iatrogenic CJD (iCJD). This is caused by healthcare-associated transmission, (i.e. patients for whom contaminated medical equipment was used or who received contaminated transplants.) Only two cases of this have ever been proven (but more cases are suspected). They involved electrodes that had been placed in a CJD patient’s brain. Once used for this they were properly sterilized and used again, only to transmit the CJD to new patients. After this was suspected to be happening the same electrodes were placed in a chimpanzee’s brain. The chimp also caught CJD and the link was proven.

It is important to note that only certain parts of the body seem to transmit CJD. Areas like the brain, spinal cord and eye have the highest infectious risk. Areas including saliva and bone marrow carry no infectious risk at all. Furthermore some people have contracted iCJD through blood transfusions from infected donors. Never accept donated blood from a zombie, not even if he offers you a biscuit.

I picked the wrong day to wear 3D glasses...
So if CJD and other prion diseases have a resistance to standard cleaning procedures what options are available to help those working in healthcare to fully disinfect their equipment?

Well, prions and prion diseases are notoriously mysterious and unusual in the science world. Methods to disinfect and sterilize them over the past few years have been controversial and cautious. What is clear is that many traditional methods are ineffective for sterilization. Methods like boiling, using dry heat or UV light for example.

But it isn’t doom and gloom because some methods, under certain circumstances, do work. A standard way to sterilize equipment is using a device called an autoclave. An autoclave is like a medical dishwasher that uses high pressure saturated steam to clean objects. Used on certain settings it can inactivate infectious prions to a safe level.
An autoclave - great for sterilizing things & getting the brown out of trousers
However the same process could be found to be ineffective due to differing prion concentrations, exposure time, temperature or a multitude of other factors.

But this applies mainly to those of us working medically with prion infected zombies. What about our Flora’s question? If you’ve just bludgeoned a zombie’s skull in and spread infectious brains all over the shop, what should you do?

Well here at the Zombie Institute we recommend a policy of avoidance in regard to those infected. Further to that we discourage violence, it should only be used as a last resort and only if you are in mortal danger. But let’s say theoretically that isn’t possible, zombies are surrounding you, threatening to bite your family, and the only solution is skull smashing. Here is the ZITS Guide to Safe Practice:

What are you moaning for? I'm the one who has to walk home alone.
  • Pick an out of the way, secure location to beat up your zombie. This should be somewhere that is only used for zombie slaying (e.g. not in your bedroom). That way you can ensure the infectious stuff stays there.
  • Gloves (doubling optional) should be worn for handling blood and body fluids. If you anticipate your zombie being a squirter add in some gowns, masks and protective eyewear. Don’t forget to keep this kit in your location and always leave it there. No popping it on for parties when you can’t be bothered creating a Halloween costume.
  • Select a suitable tool (e.g. giant mallet) for the bludgeoning procedure, use it only for prion zombie beatings, and keep it in your selected location. This avoids cross contamination. (I.e. forking a zombie to death then using the same fork to eat a pot noodle = very bad) Ideally you really only want to use a weapon once then have it destroyed. This might not be possible with available resources, but try and be creative. The computer game Dead Rising provides plenty of inspiration. (E.g. bat + nails = bat with nails, jewels + torch = lightsaber...ok they don’t all work...)
  • To decontaminate surfaces and instruments as well as safely dispose of waste please check out the unexcitedly named but very informative ‘Biosafety Practices for Handling Prions and Prion-Infected Tissues’ paper. (Link in the references)
Dead Rising 2 gives the Laws of Thermodynamics a badly scalded finger
So in conclusion, there are many ways in which you can attempt to clean up prion zombie infected mess. However much of the equipment, chemicals and practical skills are not likely to be in great supply or easily accessible if a zombie outbreak occurs, therefore the best solution is careful avoidance. If unfortunately you are forced to kill a zombie try and use a non-splattering style. Remember unlike fictional zombies real zombies do have to breathe so put down that pick axe and pick a pillow, you’ll quickly find yourself smothering your way to safety.

I ain't paying for a home Mum...ahem...I mean take that Zombie.
Thanks to Flora for her question and remember keep your Zombie Science queries coming our way because in the fight against zombies the greatest weapon is knowledge, and crossbows, but mainly knowledge.

Best wishes,
Doc A

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

See the Zombie Science 1Z Lecture –

Newcastle City Library:
Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd August 2011
33 New Bridge Street West, Newcastle, England NE1 8AX
Lecture Times: Sat - 1400 & 1600 (2 & 4pm) Sun – 1200 & 1500 (12 & 3pm)
Tickets: Free – must be reserved in advance call 0191 277 4100
Suitable for ages 13+

Rutala W: Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization of Prion-Contaminated Medical Instruments, 2010 Feb, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (
Michigan State University: Recommended Biosafety Practices for Handling Prions and Prion-Infected Tissues, May 2007, Biosafety in Research (
CJD Support Network: Iatrogenic CJD Information Sheet 3, Jan 2008