Biological Function for Prions?
December 30, 2003 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Remember Prions? Sure, but Do They Remember (for) You? Noone should be too (pdf) surprised if these controversial proteins turn out to be involved in a lot more than Mad Cow disease, and maybe have some important biological roles. But storing memories for nerve cells? Wow.
posted by freebird (15 comments total)
Sorry, the PDF link isn't to the original. Here's the original from Science, as plain HTML.
posted by freebird at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2003

er... freebird, that link gives me a registration page.
posted by soyjoy at 2:44 PM on December 30, 2003

Really? Which link? I didn't think I was logged in to anything for this content, and the main link (Nature Science Update via RSS, so I think it's public) seems fine on another computer, so I don't think I've got any cookie magic everyone getting a registration page? Sorry if so...
posted by freebird at 2:56 PM on December 30, 2003

More info on prions and BSE here.
It's a self-link (I work for them), but salient.
posted by rocketman at 5:03 PM on December 30, 2003

Prions are about the coolest, and scariest, thing going.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:45 PM on December 30, 2003

from that promega site: "Because the incubation period of vCJD is so long, with years between ingesting the infected meat and developing clinical symptoms, researchers have not definitely linked BSE with vCJD."

Ah, time to go vegetarian?
posted by gen at 8:06 PM on December 30, 2003

Here's a great article based on a speech about BSE and prion diseases by Edward Scolnick, President of Merck Research. Also, Prion Diseases, MerckManual, a general layperson's overview.

It has been known for some time that prions play a large role in molecular biology, but the transformation and replication process into rouge prions has been at the forefront of research, so this study is interesting. The article does point out that the notion of prions building memories is speculation. It more accurately points to the curious role that some prions play in building neural networks and genetic replication, which has been known generally.

It would make for a good story though, to link the cause of the cannibal form of the disease, kuru, to the physical ingestion of another's nightmares. It could have some cool plot twists like viral memetic subconscious hijacking, or voodoo dream catching, or maybe a burger joint develops a prion laced secret sauce that goes on everything [haha non burger eaters] which keeps their zombified consumer base "loyal" forever.
posted by roboto at 8:45 PM on December 30, 2003

Ah, time to go vegetarian?

Why? According to that quote you, er, quoted, BSE hasn't even been definitely linked to vCJD in humans. That was in the part you didn't boldface. Seems awfully shaky to me.

Reasonable precautions would be buying your beef from a reputable non-factory source that doesn't use animal protein in its feed, and/or replacing some of the beef you eat with other meat. But stop eating meat entirely? That seems like somewhat of an overreaction considering that the odds of contracting any form of CJD are very low even after the major BSE scare in England. We're not exactly talking about an epidemic here, it's still a very rare disease -- according to one source I located, "more than 100 cases" have been reported in Europe since 1994. Assuming that "more than 100" actually means 200, and assuming the population of Europe to be around 700 million (I'm intentionally stacking the deck against myself here to be conservative), that's mathematically the same as saying there has been no nvCJD in Europe since 1994 -- to well within six significant digits.

CJD is a horrifying way to go, to be sure, but AIDS is equally horrifying. In fact, AIDS is not a bad parallel. Giving up all meat because of nvCJD would be like giving up all sex because of AIDS, and you can expect approximately the same number of people to do the former as have done the latter: three, maybe even four.

Statistical rant aside... I expect we'll see someone win a Nobel prize for prion research within the next decade or two. It seems a fertile field for research.
posted by kindall at 9:48 PM on December 30, 2003


and if you're really worried about it, don't worry stopping now, who's to say you haven't already gotten some. also the switch can happen spontaneously, or due to genetic predisposition for the really paranoid.
posted by rhyax at 10:00 PM on December 30, 2003

Prions ... the other red meat.
posted by nofundy at 5:26 AM on December 31, 2003

Noone uses spaces anymore. Alot of us annoy easily.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:44 AM on December 31, 2003


Someone already has;
posted by tami3_3 at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2003

Well, perhaps someone should invent a burger condom.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 PM on December 31, 2003

MetaFilter: Someone should invent a burger condom.
posted by rocketman at 8:37 AM on January 2, 2004

I have to second what kindall said above: shop at your local farmer's market. Get to know the meat vendors. Learn about how they raise their cattle. Select a supplier, and build a relationship with him or her.

Local agriculture is a great way to exercise control over the production of your food supply. I do not eat at McDonald's because I can't trust how the meat became a burger. Whereas the ground beef in my freezer right now... well, I helped feed those cows this summer.
posted by rocketman at 8:43 AM on January 2, 2004

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