So I'm working on this new novel with a fungal-like disease that is alien in nature and I have a question pertaining to spore germination.

Some background - the disease is fungal-like, but not necessarily grounded to what we have seen before. It arrives on Earth on the back of a meteorite, and it just behaves similar enough to fungi to call it that. So far, I have been playing with the idea that it spreads in a few different ways. At first, direct contact with the infectious disease is enough to contract it where it then invades your body and does its thing. From there though, it spreads via possibly animals that come in contact with it and spreads to trees where it invades "open wounds" in the bark where mushrooms grow from. The spores spread only relatively a short distance from there to potentially other trees, or being carried by other animals around.

In humans though, the spores get into the lungs and the hypha and there it develops and spreads. Slowly killing the human as it eats away at your lungs from the inside out.

So this disease spreads through a variety of organisms / ways. What I'm wondering is, does it make sense that this fungus can be spread by droplets being coughed up by infected individuals? Almost like rapidly developing spores inside their lungs that spread on the air for a short distance? Then when the humans die from it in like a couple of days, the fungus sprouts fruiting bodies from the human itself, bursting through the chest etc. You get the idea.

I'm really playing with this disease as kind of a world-destroyer but also a world-builder where it modifies it's environment and the organisms as it spreads and grows. Almost like it is intelligent. So in this case close contact with the spores will infect you from like trees and maybe animals, but with humans it acts more like the flu spreading on tiny water droplets coughed up by the lungs.

EDIT ***

The main question I am going after here is can a fungus-like disease spread by coughing up spores? Does that make sense as a mode of transmission?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not a question. It is a discussion topic. That is inappropriate for this forum. Discussions do not belong on any SE site. They are explicitly and deliberately against site design. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 21, 2020 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM i think he says "I would love to discuss!" as a figure of speech. It seems more like a (badly formulated) question then a discussion. $\endgroup$
    – A.bakker
    Jan 21, 2020 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ I am leaning towards VTC because of the lack of focus, but honestly it is not intrinsically different from "What's a realistic dragon look like" except with a custom creature. @NickQuillin, please add some bullet points with specific questions about this creature (e.g. "Can this fungus be intelligent enough to do X"), and if an assumption you made outside those points is flawed, people will likely address it. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jan 21, 2020 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ My apologies, I clarified the question to note that I'm specifically going after the spreading of spores by coughing! $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2020 at 13:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NickQuillin Okay, better now. Maybe reflect that in the title too? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jan 21, 2020 at 14:21

3 Answers 3


can a fungus-like disease spread by coughing up spores? Does that make sense as a mode of transmission?

It doesn't seem entirely unreasonable, if it formed fruiting bodies in the lungs of infected victims (like an aspergilloma). You could handwave it to be an airborne disease rather than merely droplet spread, if you wanted. I don't think there are any real world examples of fungal infections that are spread this way, so it probably isn't something that could arise easily on Earth, but hey: spaceplagues play by your rules.

when the humans die from it in like a couple of days, the fungus sprouts fruiting bodies from the human itself, bursting through the chest etc.

The fruiting bodies would have to form before death if you want the infected to be infectious in turn. Growth could continue after death though, producing appropriately gristly results. You could make the post-mortem spore-spreading more effective than the pre-mortem kind of course, as the spores can be released directly into the air rather than being bound up in lung juice which will impair the range they can travel.


Infectious polymer.



This looks like a filamentous fungus under the microscope. It is not - these are prion protein polymers. Prion diseases are caused when an abnormally configured prion protein touches a normally configured one. That makes the normal one turn abnormal. The abnormal protein spreads, causing polymeric filaments through the tissues. It is like a zombie epidemic on a molecular level.

Kurt Vonnegut had a similar scheme in his story Cat's Cradle. It involved an unusual form of water called Ice-9 that would catalyze adjacent water molecules to assume the Ice-9 configuration.


It involves a variation of a water molecule a scientist invented. It was different, a variation of water different in one respect: It melted at 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was frozen at room temperature. If one molecule of this unusual water came in contact with a regular molecule of water, the regular molecule would turn to ice-9. This happened over and over again, in geometric progression. Ice-9 was kept in a vial. But if the vial was opened and one molecule was poured into normal water, all that water would freeze. Then it would spread, and would sweep through the lakes and the rivers and the oceans. And all the water in the world would ultimately freeze.

In the story, a dog licks Ice-9 and freezes solid. As do lots of other things.

In your story your polymer might affect cell membranes. All life is full of them. It catalyzes a configuration change in the phospholipids that comprise cell membranes, turning them into filamentous structures. These can be misidentified as fungi at first but they are not. They are much worse.

This polymer does not care if the phospholipids are alive or dead or what kind of animal they are in. Phospholipids will continue to be converted into this alternate form regardless. You can have the polymer filaments billow out of the dead as you see fit.

One fragment of this infectious polymer in contact with normal cell membrane will be enough to start the process - just like one molecule of Ice-9 that dog licked was enough to change its body water to ice. Certainly infected persons, animals and things would shed polymer fragments which could easily act like airborne spores.


It doesn't make sense. Spores wouldn't be coughed up.

Rather, the person would have "mushrooms" erupt from his or her body. They could take nearly any shape (some are quite elaborate). These mushrooms would release spores, which might also be visible as a cloud of dust or nearly invisible.

This could happen only after they've stopped moving, or even while they were still (technically) alive and moving around.

It's also possible that the fungus could significantly alter the host's behavior to raise the chances of infecting another individual. For instance, the person might be really clingy and insist that the victim stay in a closed room with them, even locking themselves in together.



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