Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Zombie Scale

A good day to you fine Zombiology Student, come on in and make yourself comfortable.

In our ZomBlog today we’re answering a question posed by Chris who wanted to know, “Can zombies rock climb?”

This Zombie is on the fence

Rock climbing is a challenging but extremely fun activity. In the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse it may be reassuring to know you can simply ascend to safety and take up residence in a cave, holding weekend dinner parties with Bigfoot.

But this reassurance may be shattered if the undead can simply shimmy up after you.

Let’s first find out what it physically takes for us humans to climb.

I'm guessing a strong sphincter is one thing
Studies have shown that the average elite male climber is around 5 foot 8 inches, and weighs about 65 kgs. Muscular endurance is important, as you often have to hold your hand in a single position whilst your body moves. What makes climbing rather physiologically unique is that it requires sustained and intermittent contraction of the forearm muscles for upward propulsion. A good climber will generally have a small frame, low body fat, a high level of upper body strength, a reasonable balance of strength between their arms, and a high endurance factor.

Let’s compare that with the physicality of a human suffering from the Zombieism condition.

The areas of the brain known as the cerebellum and basal ganglia are imperative for physical movement, and would likely be affected by Zombieism. Damage to the cerebellum would prevent a Zombie from tuning and refining their movements. This would make conducting the careful and deliberate motions for climbing very difficult.

The basal ganglia helps us select the correct movement in a particular situation. Damage here would prevent the Zombie from actively choosing say, to move it’s hand over moving it’s leg. You can now imagine how this might affect one’s ability to climb.

Furthermore the cerebellum helps us to keep the image our eye’s are seeing still when we turn our head. If it is damaged the image will appear to slip, making it difficult to keep focus on a particular spot such as an important hand hold required for climbing.

So the answer to Chris’ question, “can Zombies rock climb” , is thankfully, no. The disease robs them of the skills required to undertake such a task. When the outbreak begins, rock climbers can simply scale their way up to safety, kick back with Bigfoot and watch the world burn below.

I’m always seeking questions to answer here on the ZomBlog. Why not leave yours as a comment below? Or visit our Book of Faces ( and ask your question there.

I’m here for all your undead knowledge needs.

Many thanks to Chris for today’s question, and I’ll see you next time, unless you’re out at a rock climbing lesson!

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.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Zombieism: Eat, Sex, Poop

Hello there Zombiology Student, it’s great to have you with us at the ZomBlog.

Today we have a terrific trio of Zombie Science questions from some of our students.

First off we have Ida who asks, “Do zombies have a functional digestive system, and do they defecate?”

I love human, but it goes straight through me.
Let’s begin with the first part. In fiction Zombies have a continual craving for human flesh, yet they are said to not require nourishment. Regular visitors will know that here at the Institute we have a different idea of what a real Zombie would be like. First off, we don’t believe Zombies would be ‘undead’ but rather human beings suffering from a disease. Humans have to ingest certain materials which the digestive system processes and turns into energy in order for us to survive . Zombies move around, so they must be using some form of energy. In order to get this energy their bodies must be processing what they eat, therefore they will need to have a functional digestive system.

But do they defecate? Defecation is the last part of the digestion process whereby solid, semi-solid, or liquid waste is eliminated from the digestive tract via the anus. As we have established, Zombies are using their digestive systems and to use an old adage ‘what comes in must go out’. However, the damage a Zombie disease would do to a human brain could cause changes in behaviour. So don’t expect a Zombie to excuse themselves to the bathroom. They’d likely go wherever and whenever they needed to, we should count ourselves lucky that TV and Film has yet to develop smell-o-vision.

Except this Zombie, he has standards.
Next up is Paul who wanted to know, “Can they mate or bear children?”

The answer depends on how we approach the question. A Zombie disease that is spread by biting, akin to Rabies, is contained within saliva and transferred by a bite. The disease increases aggression raising the Zombie’s chances of biting someone, spreading the disease, and therefore creating infected Zombie offspring. So from that perspective, yes they can in a way create more Zombies.

However I believe Paul’s question really relates to whether a human with Zombieism could have intercourse and produce a child the ‘old fashioned way’.

This was the only appropriate 'Zombie Sex' image I could find. I saw things students, things I'll never be able to un-see. 

Surprisingly we have not conducted much research into Zombie Sex. Although in a previous ZomBlog we did answer the question, “If a Zombie bites a pregnant woman, would the baby become infected?” (

We believe that a Zombie disease would be affecting the human brain in a variety of ways, affecting memories and altering their personalities. This could mean that a Zombie may not be interested in sex, nor able to recall how to do it. Yet there is nothing to say that the biological facilities required to create a baby would be non-functional. If two Zombies did make love, it would be an instinctive behaviour, much like when two animals go at it in the wild. Of course the Zombie’s wouldn’t have hospitals, midwives, and so on. So if a Zombie did become pregnant, once she came to term the baby would simply drop out and without the proper care it is unlikely to survive for long.

A Zombie giving birth is essentially a packed lunch.
Lastly Colin asked, “Why don’t zombies feed on each other in a frenzy?”

This is a question that many have asked when watching Zombie films. A possibility may be that a Zombie is capable of sensing the Zombieism disease by smell, and therefore avoids it in favour of non-infected food. There are countless stories of animals such as dogs and cats being able to detect disease in humans. But, these animals have far superior smelling abilities than humans so it seems unlikely that a Zombie would have such a skill.

Did you hear that World War Z?

Another idea is that the disease may be altering their behaviour in such a way to discourage them from infecting those who already have the disease. There are many parasites who alter their hosts behaviour. When the malaria parasite plasmodium infects a mosquito it initially makes them more cautious and less likely to bite. This provides time for the disease to reproduce in their guts. Afterwards it makes them bite more frequently, and for longer, increasing odds the parasite will spread. Yet once a human becomes infected they give off signals that attract more mosquitoes.

At present we could hypothesize that a Zombie disease is in some way discouraging infected hosts from biting those who are infected. A reason for this would be because its aim is to spread the disease, and to do that it makes more sense to bite someone who is uninfected. But we would need to learn a lot more about Zombieism to provide a definitive answer. This is what makes studying Zombieism so exciting - the unanswered questions!   

My thanks to Ida, Paul, and Colin for their brilliant questions - I hope you are satisfied with the answers.

If you have a question about the undead please get in touch with me in the comments section below, and don’t forget to visit our Book of Faces ( I’m ready, waiting, and willing to answer your questions right here on the ZomBlog.

Remember in the fight against Zombies the greatest weapon is knowledge, and crossbows, but mainly knowledge.

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.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Team Zombie

Good day Zombiology Student and thanks for stopping by the ZomBlog.

Today I’m answering a question that came in via the Book of Faces from Jim;

“Hey Doc. I was wondering if Zombies would have organisation skills? I'm not talking about becoming wedding planners or the like but think more along the lines of "The leader" from I Am Legend. Would Zombies be able to lead other zombies with instructions and would those zombies be able to follow them?”
The leader from 'I Am Legend' - more appealing that most political leaders
To begin answering this fascinating question, let’s learn a little something about instinct.

Whilst being a complicated term, instinct essentially refers to the in-built responses seen in animal species. These responses are predictable in a variety of situations for example, many animals will attack anything that threatens their offspring, a cornered animal will either fight, run, or play dead, and most animals demonstrate built in food finding behaviours.

But when it comes to humans, instinct becomes more complicated especially because our brains are capable of overriding instinct, or over expressing it.

Take survival for example. There are many who would argue that the survival instinct is inbuilt into humans. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case for newborns, young children, and even teenagers - who continually put their survival at risk. You need only look at the newborn who tries to swallow coins or the teenager who drives recklessly to see that in action.

Survival of the Drunkest 

Human instincts are strongly linked to an area of the brain known as the amygdala. This almond shaped structure is one of the oldest parts of the brain from an evolutionary perspective. The amygdala plays a key part in what has been called the "general-purpose defense response control network" and gives rise to whether we will attack or retreat when faced with a specific situation, better known as the “fight or flight” response.

Our research into Zombieism has indicated that the condition could be caused by damage to the human brain including the amygdala. So it is likely that a Zombie would be inclined to act instinctually, certainly more than a uninfected human.

However, this same damage would mean that an individual Zombie lacks the ability to act as a leader and Zombies themselves would be unresponsive to following instruction.

Organizing Zombies would be akin to herding cats. Or directing an episode of Geordie Shore
But this doesn’t mean that Zombies could not appear to have organisational skills, or even act in a collective manner.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that humans seemingly have a hard-wired ability to notice living things. The study's subjects watched images of various outdoor scenes, two at a time. The second image was slightly different from the first. The differences covered a variety of things, from living animals and humans to inanimate objects such as cars. The results showed that humans can identify changes much faster and more accurately if they're living things. Nearly 90 percent of the living changes were spotted compared with 66 percent for inanimate objects. In other words, we're naturally wired to look out for living things. So it is feasible that a Zombie would be better able to spot and therefore target living things like humans. This could explain why they would be drawn to attacking humans and in a sense would appear to be specifically targeting them.   

We can also consider the area of sociology known as collective behaviour. Collective behaviour is when people engage in interactions in response to unstructured, ambiguous or unstable situations. All of which cover Zombies rather well.

Zombieism is highly likely to affect the aforementioned amygdala, leading to heightened aggression. Therefore a horde of Zombies would be defined in this area of sociology as a mob, because they are an emotionally aroused crowd intent on violence or destructive action.  

Rather aptly the coming together of such a mob is described under “Contagion Theory”, whereby people get swept up in the behaviors of others and act like herds of cattle. Yet a large number of Zombies coming together may only appear to be an example of “herd mentality” rather than actually being one. Take the situation shown in the recent Zombie film “World War Z”. Brad Pitt visits Jerusalem where large walls are keeping the undead out. The loud singing of the assembled crowd attracts the Zombies, who pile against the walls, eventually climbing over one and another until they get in.

Zombie piley-on in action
Observing this, one might think that it is a clever tactic on the Zombies’ part. Using teamwork to reach their prey. In actual fact every Zombie is acting on their individual desire to reach the sound. The action of forming of Zombie Tower, akin to an army of ants, is not a purposeful choice but merely a by-product of the mass of Zombies trying to reach the sound.

Now Zombie Ants, that'd be scary. Or a good Pixar film.
So the answer to Jim’s question, would Zombies have organisation skills, is ultimately no, but they might appear to when observed. The second part of his question “Would Zombies be able to lead other zombies with instructions and would those zombies be able to follow them?” is also presently a no. Their brains would have been too badly damaged to leave leadership skills intact and if by chance one could act as a leader the others would not be able to understand or follow their instructions.

Many thanks to Jim for an excellent question, and if you have a question about the undead please get in touch with me in the comments section below, and don’t forget to visit our Book of Faces ( I’m ready, waiting, and willing to answer your questions right here on the ZomBlog.

Keep your eyes to the sky, and your ears to the ground, because you never know when Zombies are around.

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.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Zombies - Sick Zombies

Greetings Zombiology Students and a hearty welcome to the ZomBlog.

Today’s question came in from John, he asked ‘can Zombies get sick?’

Regular readers will know that our version of Zombies here at the Institute are based on genuine science, rather than fiction. So there are many differences between our idea of a Zombie and those you might encounter on the silver screen.

Presently it is not possible to have a dead body that acts as though it were living. Our current theories dictate that Zombies are not undead but they are human beings who are suffering from a disease. Therefore they will still have beating hearts, a need to eat, breathe and expel waste. The Zombie disease will cause them to be very aggressive, eating continually (controversially not just human flesh - but anything), walk with unsteady shambling movements, and communicate only through a deathly moan. Whatever causes this disease, be it a virus, bacterium, or prion disease, it will be a serious, horrific illness.

The cat based meme is also a strong contender. 
But as John asks, could Zombies get sick?

All of us have a guardian against getting ill, our immune system. The immune system is our defender from infectious invaders. Through something called an immune response, the immune system attacks organisms and substances that enter our body to try and damage our vital systems or cause disease.
The immune system, as portrayed by a terrifying drawing.
A network of cells, tissues and organs make up the immune system. The important cells are the white blood cells, also known as leukocytes. They come in two basic types; phagocytes, which, much like a Zombie, chew up invading organisms, and lymphocytes, cells that allow the body to remember and recognize previous invaders and help the body destroy them.
When foreign substances enter our body (called antigens), many cells work together to spot them, and try to get rid of them. They do this by triggering the creation of antibodies, special proteins that lock on to the invaders. Once they’ve been created, they stay in the body, ready to strike again should the disease return. This is why once you get sick with something like chicken pox it is unlikely you’ll get ill from it again.
There are diseases that can affect the immune system. One of the most well known is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection / AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). This disease gradually destroys the immune system. Without any defence the body is vulnerable to a multitude of organisms which can easily cause life threatening infections in AIDS patients.
Whatever is causing Zombieism it will be a very invasive disease and is likely to weaken the immune system. On top of this a Zombie’s diet is unlikely to be balanced. They are simply eating anything and everything they can. It is doubtful they’ll be garnishing all the required nutrients that help the body fight off germs. Poor hygiene will also play a role. After all I seriously doubt that a Zombie will take the time to wash its hands after eating or going to the bathroom (if indeed they go to a bathroom, they probably go wherever and whenever they want).
I believe they call this a 'mercy flush'.
Combining all these factors together and a Zombie is going to be an easy target for every illness out there. So the answer to John’s question, can Zombies get sick, has got to be a firm yes. Not only can they get sick, they’re at much greater risk than the rest of us. Hence biological warfare may offer a defence against the apocalypse. But here at the Zombie Institute we always recommend trying to help treat and cure Zombies, rather than trying to kill them! Always remember that Zombies are people too.
If you have a question about the undead please get in touch with me in the comments section below, and don’t forget to visit our Book of Faces ( I’m ready, waiting, and willing to answer your questions right here on the ZomBlog.

Stay safe students,

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.