Vampires, Witches and Zombies Oh My!: Colorado State Doctoral Students to Talk about Science Behind the Myths on Oct. 28

Colorado State University biochemistry doctoral students will talk on Oct. 28 about genetic disorders and environmental conditions from the Victorian era through modern times that have led to the popular myths behind vampires, witches and zombies.

Kristopher Hite and Nick Clark will speak to the Biochemistry Club from 3-4 p.m. in Room 101 of the Pathology building – northwest corner of East Drive and Lake Street – on the Fort Collins campus. The talk is open to the public.

Chemical reactions caused by genetic disorders and external factors in the environment most likely led to the stories behind some of Halloween’s most notorious mythical figures, scientists have said.

For example, witch trials in the 15th through 19th centuries most likely stemmed from hysteria caused by exposure to chemicals produced by a fungus, Hite said.

People ingested the fungus from rye growing along the Rhine River Valley in Europe, which led to behavior blamed on witchcraft. Affected people acquired a condition called ergotism that manifested in one of two forms: gangrenous, which caused limbs to fall off, or convulsive, which led to hallucinations.

“The hallucinations most likely came from a compound in the fungus similar to LSD, which led to strange behavior,” said Hite. “When a whole community is affected by it, there’s mass hysteria.”

Hite will also talk about a condition in the geographic area of Romania that may have led to light sensitivity and glowing teeth that helped perpetuate the vampire myth.

Hite admits a fascination with the myths, but his real research, working with Colorado State Professor Jeffrey Hansen, focuses on the structure function and relationship of a protein that causes Rett syndrome.

Clark will talk about a compound in pufferfish that once created a catatonic or zombielike state among Haitian people. Clark works with Professor Karolin Luger, a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor in biochemistry who studies nucleosome structure, which is the basic unit for compacting DNA.