It sounds like the plot of a horror movie: a mind-controlling parasite that turns its victims into zombies and manipulates them to do its bidding. But this terrifying scenario actually happens in real life. The parasite is a fungus known as Entomophthora muscae and the hapless victims are fruit flies – often used as laboratory models for human disease. The fungus grows inside a fly’s body, feeding on its organs and fat. After a few days the parasite takes hold of the insect’s brain and starts controlling its movements. As the sun sets, the fly staggers towards the nearest high point, sticking its wings up in a characteristic ‘death pose’ (left panels). Over the next few hours (centre), the fungus begins to sprout from the dead insect’s belly in the form of small white spores. By morning (right) the spores are dripping from the lifeless wings, infecting any unlucky flies nearby.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.