Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Prions in sheep muscle

This follows up the discovery of prions in mice muscle and prions in human muscle (from humans with CJD).
    Two years ago, in collaboration with Dr. Stanley Prusiner, who won a
    1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in the field, Dr. Legname
    found prions in the muscles of mice and showed that they could
    replicate there. Since then, Swiss researchers have found prions in
    the muscles of humans with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a
    degenerative brain disease that is thought to arise spontaneously in
    one in a million humans.

    That prions exist in the edible parts of livestock, Dr. Legname said,
    suggests that the United States should screen livestock to minimize
    the chances that Americans will be exposed to infected animals. The
    United States Department of Agriculture, which tested about 20,000
    cattle a year for mad cow disease before finding one positive for it
    in December, has announced it will test more than 200,000 animals
    starting this summer, but that is still only a small fraction of the
    number of animals that Europe tests.
It seems the tests detecting prions have become much more sensitive.

Next in line: prions in beef muscle. It's gotta be there. The question is: how much will cause a problem? My sense is that it's too low to be a problem but who knows at this point.

My off-the-wall prediction: USDA will prevent anybody from testing for prions in beef muscle. Good heavens, reckless behavior like that may devastate the cattle industry.