A team of scientists are redefining what it means to be a prion–a type of protein that can pass heritable traits from cell to cell by its structure instead of by DNA. Although prions are infamous for causing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, fatal familial insomnia, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow’s disease, the present study indicates that prions identified in yeast, and possibly in plants, and other organisms may be beneficial.
Prions, misfolded proteins that wreak havoc on the brain, may have finally met their match. Best known for things like mad cow disease (and possibly alzheimer’s disease) scientists have had no luck stopping prions, until now. Researchers say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: Protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans.