Mad Cow, Creation of a Prion

Summary: For the first time, an artificial prion, or misfolded protein, has been created that can, by itself, produce a deadly infectious disease in mice. This is thought to occur in mad cow disease. This research, if corroborated, would provide strong evidence for the protein-only hypothesis, the controversial concept that a protein alone, without the help of DNA or RNA, can cause infectious disease.

Quote: "The finding represents a renaissance in prion biology. For the first time, we can create prions in the test tube, which will change the way scientists do experiments in the field. We now have a tool for exploring the mechanism by which a protein can spontaneously fold into a shape that causes disease." (Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner, whose laboratory did the research)

Comment: It is a curious irony that this work should have been published the same week as Francis Crick died. Dr. Crick assumed from the start that the genetic code was universal to all forms of life. Dr. Crick formulated the "central dogma" -- the view that the usual sequence of events is from DNA to RNA to protein. By contrast, Dr. Prusiner has postulated the prion -- the idea that proteins can go it alone. DNA and RNA are unnecessary to the prion.

Both Crick and Prusiner received the Nobel Prize. A Nobel Prize may not constitute proof that an idea is correct but in these cases it certainly confirms that both Francis Crick and Stanley Prusiner have had major impact on science and medicine.

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