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Study finds "Zombie apocalypse inevitable"

April 2013, model of the month by Nick Juty
Original model: MODEL1009230000

The recent horse meat scandal caused outrage, as reported by news agencies throughout Europe. This was primarily due to the general public unwittingly partaking in horse meat rather than the (chiefly) beef product they had purchased. Initially there was little concern for the additional chemical component, phenylbutazone, which may be provided as a supplement to such animals. Phenylbutazone, or "bute" is a commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for the short-term treatment of pain and fever in animals, but is deemed unsafe for human consumption. Giri and Mukhopadhyay (1998) [1] have demonstrated genotoxic effects, due to such chemical entities, in mammalian bone marrow cells. Such meat should, given its unsuitability for human consumption, never enter the human food chain.

The mutagenic effects of many chemical agents are well established: some agents are known to intercalate with DNA, and hamper accurate copying of the information carried by the molecule [figure 1].

Figure 2

Figure 1 Dna intercalation. Figure gracefully borrowed from Prof. Larry Moran.

'Carriers' of an altered genome could remain asymptomatic in the majority of cases, but certain environmental triggers, including further "bute" exposure, may induce a spontaneous manifestation of the full disease. Furthermore, in these symptomatic cases, the disease could become extremely aggressive and contagious, effectively transforming infected individuals into an entirely new species, Homo reanimatus, closely related to our own.

The cause and effects of zombie infestations have been the subject of pulp fiction and popular media over recent decades, but originate from observations dating back to the late 19th century. These new scientific observations do, however, seem to mirror those from non-scientific materials.

Figure 3

Figure 2 Evolution of a zombie outbreak. Figure taken from [2].

Should the Pandemic Severity Index (PSI) for this outbreak become "severity 5" (as defined by the World Health Organization), it is not infeasible that zombie infestation dynamics [2, MODEL1009230000] could be observed (figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 3 Zombie attack! Figure from Monster Control Inc. (used under license).

Thankfully, the authors also point to some guidance on how such an outbreak should be handled, in terms of limiting its spread, and dealing with its aftermath [3].

Bibliographic references

  1. Giri AK & Mukhopadhyay A. Mutagenicity assay in Salmonella and in vivo sister chromatid exchange in bone marrow cells of mice for four pyrazolone derivatives. Mutat Res. 1998 Dec 3;420(1-3):15-25.
  2. Munz et al.When zombies attack!: Mathematical modelling of an outbreak of zombie infection Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress 2009
  3. Brooks M. The zombie survival guide : complete protection from the living dead. Three Rivers Press 2003.