The Rundown: ‘The Last of Us’ fungus is among us

Plus, will a ComEd deal raise the cost of electricity? Here’s what you need to know today.

Zombie fungus
One of season's biggest TV shows is "The Last of Us" on HBO. It is inspired by the scientific phenomenon of zombie fungus. Photography by Liane Hentscher / Courtesy of HBO
Zombie fungus
One of season's biggest TV shows is "The Last of Us" on HBO. It is inspired by the scientific phenomenon of zombie fungus. Photography by Liane Hentscher / Courtesy of HBO

The Rundown: ‘The Last of Us’ fungus is among us

Plus, will a ComEd deal raise the cost of electricity? Here’s what you need to know today.

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Good afternoon! And happy birthday to the Chicago Sun-Times! You might not know this, but I used to work the vampire shift (midnight to 8 a.m.) at the newspaper back when I didn’t have gray hair. Anyway, here’s what you need to know today.

1. A closer look at the zombie fungus behind ‘The Last of Us,’ courtesy of the Field Museum

The fungus in The Last of Us, a hit HBO series and video game about a post-apocalyptic world taken over by brain-controlling fungi, is actually real and can be found at Chicago’s Field Museum.

But don’t worry, there’s no need to start locking your doors and stocking up on Linda Ronstadt records.

Matt Nelsen, a researcher at the museum, told WBEZ during a recent field trip that the fungus is nowhere near as deadly in the real world.

The fungus, known officially as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, can take over the minds of insects, but not humans. (And yes, there are some pretty cool photos of zombified insects in the link. There’s also a video.)

“Making a jump to humans is especially difficult because humans are warmblooded and that really acts as a defense,” Nelsen told WBEZ as he carefully opened tins and envelopes of specimens housed deep inside a part of the museum off-limits to the public. “They can’t really survive at temperatures that warm.” [WBEZ]

Going back to The Last of Us (and spoiler warning), my husband sent me this video explaining how Joel and his daughter Sarah almost got infected in the first episode.

2. Will Pritzker reject controversial changes to an AP course in African American studies?

The College Board this week made changes to an Advanced Placement course in African American studies after facing criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The College Board’s new curriculum “purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism,” reports The New York Times. “It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.” [New York Times]

Now, it remains to be seen if Gov. JB Pritzker will follow through on his threat to reject a course that does not include Black queer Americans.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week Pritzker sent a strongly worded letter to the College Board, warning he would ditch any revised AP course that doesn’t give “a factual accounting of history, including the role played by black queer Americans.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. How Lightfoot’s 15-year deal with ComEd could affect your electricity bill

With the rising cost of energy and overall inflation high on the minds of many Chicago residents, the City Council this week temporarily blocked a deal allowing ComEd to continue providing electricity for the next 15 years.

Critics said they were only given a few days to review the complex agreement, evoking the debacle of the city’s rush to privatize parking meters. [Chicago Sun-Times]

So the big question: Will the deal increase our electricity bills? Maybe.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the agreement allows ComEd to hike rates in the Chicago area to cover the cost of a proposed $32.5 million job center. But state regulators would have to sign off on that spending. [Crain’s Chicago Business]

4. A Chicago man says he knows who shot him. So why hasn’t the person been arrested?

Joey said he knows who shot him — he saw the shooter’s face and recognized him from the neighborhood.

“I want the guy in jail,” he said.

But police are moving slowly, reports my colleague Patrick Smith, who examines Chicago’s gun violence in a new season Motive. Three weeks after the shooting, no arrests have been made and detectives have not taken Joey’s statement.

Joey’s story shows just how difficult it can be for witnesses to work with a Police Department that claims to be desperate for community cooperation. But it also shows the limits of eyewitness testimony in helping to solve murders. [WBEZ]

5. Today is Groundhog Day, and we’re nearing the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest comedies of all time

And that comedy is, of course, Groundhog Day, which for some reason was released on Feb. 12 and not on Groundhog Day in 1993.

The film, which has deep ties to Chicago, remains “funny, poignant and way better than sweet vermouth on the rocks, with a twist,” writes film critic Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Roeper also looks into a popular question: How long is Phil stuck in the time loop?

“The original screenplay by Danny Rubin indicated Phil had lived the same day for 10,000 years,” Roeper writes.

But director and co-writer Harold Ramis “once told the New York Times he believed it was 10 years, but later amended that to 30 or 40 years in order to allot enough time for Phil to learn to become proficient at the piano, learn ice sculpting, master French, etc.,” Roeper says. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Concerns of a price war are growing in the electric vehicle industry. [NPR]
  • A retired Chicago firefighter faces federal criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Migrants began moving into a former Chicago school despite opposition from nearby residents. [WBEZ]
  • Azurá Stevens is the latest member of the Chicago Sky’s championship roster to leave the team. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Oh, and one more thing …

Chicago is offering $11 million in grants for local nonprofit arts organizations. And somehow I get the feeling my John Wick fan fiction club won’t qualify.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot today announced the city will award grants ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 to nonprofit arts organizations, saying they are “essential to the fabric of our city.”

Those interested can apply for a grant at

“The 2023 Cultural Grants program will support the nonprofits that empower artists and creative workers and ensure their continued recovery from the pandemic,” the mayor said in a statement. “This latest program builds upon our ongoing commitment to revitalize and strengthen our city’s diverse arts community.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

Tell me something good …

What’s something you’re working on that gives you a sense of accomplishment?

Jeff writes:

“I just received my vote by mail ballot and wanted to comment upon this one area of city government that really seems to have its act together.

“Some time ago, my wife, daughter and I all signed up to vote by mail for all elections. We don’t have to sign up again or even wonder about it because we each always get an email telling us our ballot is on the way and then we get an email when it has been received and accepted.”

And Renuka writes:

“Something I am working on that will give me a sense of accomplishment is raising three teenage kids in the midst of what seems like maya (illusion).”

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.