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Biotech Science

Creating Prion-Free Cows 340

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the un-mad-cows dept.
Science Daily is reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is reporting positive results from a recent study designed to create genetically engineered prion-free cattle. From the article: "ARS studied eight Holstein males that were developed by Hematech Inc., a pharmaceutical research company based in Sioux Falls, S.D. The evaluation of the prion-free cattle was led by veterinary medical officer Juergen Richt of ARS' National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa. The evaluation revealed no apparent developmental abnormalities in the prion-free cattle."
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Creating Prion-Free Cows

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  • Dead sheeps (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:34AM (#17430186) Homepage
    This is great! Now we can go back to feeding the cows a healthy diet of dead sheep, which was how the whole "mad cow" thing started.
    • Re:Dead sheeps (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:38AM (#17430208) Journal
      Actually, that is not proven. It it THOGUGHT that scrapies is the same as Madcow ( and MC CWD CJD), but they are not certain. But even with that, I want to know how accurate is the test these days? It is great that they did not have any positive in what was suppose to be negative cattle. But will they get a good positive in an infected animal?
      • Re:Dead sheeps (Score:4, Insightful)

        by slashbob22 (918040) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @10:27AM (#17431228)

        But will they get a good positive in an infected animal?
        As far as I understand with MC, CWD, Scrapies, CJD and Varient CJD the only way to ensure accuracy of tests is through a biopsy of the brain tissue of a dead subject. While there are tests for live subjects (clinical observations) they are not definitive [wikipedia.org].
        • by DrYak (748999) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @11:24AM (#17431706) Homepage
          BSE and CJD are very similar (same mechanism) but not exactly the sane disease (not exactly the same "diseased" protein shape), which also explains the longer incubation time.

          the only way to ensure accuracy of tests is through a biopsy of the brain tissue of a dead subject. While there are tests for live subjects (clinical observations) they are not definitive.


          Also there *ARE* good tests to determine the ESB both faster than the biopsy and not needing to put down the cow, much better than clinical observations.
          Intensive research has been done in German and Swiss laboratories. The first test working on live animal has been developped in Göttingen, Germany. Thus sadly, the information is only available in the German version of wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. (Though the german article mentions a later Texan discovery).
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by slashbob22 (918040)

            BSE and CJD are very similar (same mechanism) but not exactly the sane disease (not exactly the same "diseased" protein shape), which also explains the longer incubation time.

            I agree since CJD occurs spontaneously (or with genetic pre-disposition), varient CJD is determined to have very similar properties to BSE and is the one which is believed to be linked to BSE.

            The first test working on live animal has been developped in Göttingen, Germany. Thus sadly, the information is only available in the German version of wikipedia. (Though the german article mentions a later Texan discovery).

            My German is not strong, though I was able to get some information out of it (babelfish helped as well); these are interesting developments. Earlier in the wiki it states that Prionen cannot be proved until around 24-30 months of age and the test is 89% accurate with no false positives (quite good). My only concer

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Syrrh (700452)
              Presumably the testing isn't over, the researchers just decided that 2 years is a pretty good success indicator, especially when they've been injecting BSE prions *directly into the brains* of the test animals. If the infection can't take hold in that condition, I'd say it pretty well surpasses any naturally occuring scenarios. Still too early to say with absolute certainty, but they have good reason to celebrate so far.

              I'm more interested in where this heads beyond the BSE scare, since it'll be a lot harde
          • by dosquatch (924618) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @01:18PM (#17432888) Journal

            BSE and CJD are very similar (same mechanism) but not exactly the sane disease
            Best.
            Typo.
            Evar.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222)
      Well, Chronic Wasting Disease [wikipedia.org] has managed to do a number on deer without anyone feeding sheep to deer - so don't be so certain about the origin of mad cow. It might have spontaneously occurred in cattle populations, or there might be some other vector.

      For what it's worth, soybean meal is the primary protein source for cattle in the US, and it has been for a long time. IIRC, Europe was the only place where they had to grind up sheep and cows for protein because soybeans don't grow very well there in general.
    • Or dead people (Score:5, Interesting)

      by giafly (926567) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @08:01AM (#17430486)
      In 2005 a controversial paper in The Lancet introduced a theory that BSE might have originated in British cattle when they ate imported animal feed that included infected human remains from Hindu funeral ceremonies in India.
      Bovine spongiform encephalopathy [wikipedia.org]

      This theory has some merit because scrapie from sheep does not appear to infect people, whereas BSE from cattle does.
    • by AndroidCat (229562) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @08:38AM (#17430662) Homepage
      Why yes, they should have been feeding live sheep to cows...
  • by abscissa (136568) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:34AM (#17430188)
    ... or you could just not feed them parts of their dead relatives?
    • by Oswald (235719) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:50AM (#17430252)
      Isn't it encouraging to know that, while your solution works in theory, it's not good enough in practice because you can't trust people not to do that.

      Doesn't seem that hard, really, but people are pretty stupid.

      • by Vellmont (569020)

        it's not good enough in practice because you can't trust people not to do that.

        Farmers don't just cut up some cow and feed it to another cow. They buy feed from the local distributor, and often times don't even know what's in the feed. The distributor gets it from a large manufacturer. It's pretty hard for the large manufacturers to hide it if they're putting cow into cow feed.

        The current small number of mad cow incidents results from old feed fed to cows years ago (or at least it can be traced to old fe
    • by Miksu77 (768588) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:58AM (#17430296)
      Or you could take the road us Finns have taken: Nowadays each and every cow that dies here is tested and not a single piece of a particular animal may be used to produce food unless that animal has been tested.
    • by markdavis (642305)
      >... or you could just not feed them parts of their dead relatives?

      Yep, that would be pretty logical, considering that cows are vegetarians and should never be eating other animals, anyway. You could come up with some interesting sayings:

      "People don't let cows eat people"
      "Cows don't let cows eat cows"
      "People don't let cows eat cows"
      "Cows don't let people let cows eat people or cows"

      It is kinda humorous- cows eating people! My solution is that I just don't eat cows or pigs :)
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Or you could just not feed them at all. Aside from nuking them from space, it's the only way to be sure.

      -Eric

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Frangible (881728)
      No kidding. All cows are already created "prion free" naturally... it is our feeding them unnatural shit they should never eat that's the problem. You don't need to have a pharma company engineer a fucking cow to fix that problem. I like my steak as much as the next guy, but it's pretty messed up what we do to farm animals.
      • Was that:
        • pharma company engineer a fucking cow
        or
        • pharma company engineer fucking a cow?
        it's pretty messed up what we do to farm animals.
        Indeed!
  • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:34AM (#17430192) Homepage
    I confess; I had to look up what a prion is.
    I'm so embarrassed.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=define%3A +prions%3F&btnG=Search [google.com]
  • Had to look it up (Score:3, Informative)

    by antic (29198) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:36AM (#17430200)
    From Wikipedia: "a type of infectious agent made only of protein."

    "Mad cow disease" is a prion disease.
    • by Rosyna (80334)
      A "common" form of prion disease in humans is due to Cannibalism. I can't wait until they do an episode of House where that's the cause. I so nailed the Chimerism [wikipedia.org] in that one episode as soon as the bleeding disorder had completely different results.
    • by cliffski (65094)
      That sounds very certain. I was told that BSE is 'probably' a prion disease. I thought they aren't 100% certain about that yet. This is what my missus told me, and she is doing research into BSE in the UK. Interestingly, she said she wouldn't eat these animals (with the prions removed). I wouldn't either. Until a scientist can explain with 100% certainty and accuracy exactly what something does, I'm not happy with them artificially adding it or removing it from stuff I eat. By all means research the stuff m
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:39AM (#17430214)
    or Mad Cow Disease for those of you like myself who had no idea what the headline was about.

    The actual article headline "Mad Cow Breakthrough?" really should have been followed by a story about mad cow scientists were developing a doomsday weapon to destroy humanity, or that mad cow armies were breaking through our outer defense perimeter or some such. Would have been much more interesting.
  • New cows? (Score:2, Funny)

    by jackharrer (972403)
    What is so new in those cows? Two heads? Fallout style?
  • by tade (156618) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @06:54AM (#17430270)
    Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prion [wikipedia.org] mentions this article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=p ubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=159 31169&query_hl=6&itool=pubmed_DocSum [nih.gov] that mentions the prions in relation with long term memory. I wonder how well they tested the cows without the prions. (Abstract below)

    Changes in protein conformation drive most biological processes, but none have seized the imagination of scientists and the public alike as have the self-replicating conformations of prions. Prions transmit lethal neurodegenerative diseases by means of the food chain. However, self-replicating protein conformations can also constitute molecular memories that transmit genetic information. Here, we showcase definitive evidence for the prion hypothesis and discuss examples in which prion-encoded heritable information has been harnessed during evolution to confer selective advantages. We then describe situations in which prion-enciphered events might have essential roles in long-term memory formation, transcriptional memory and genome-wide expression patterns.
    • by Tim C (15259)
      It's not clear from the abstract (and you don't seem to be able to access the paper itself, not that I'd really understand it), but I assume that they're not talking about transmitting genetic information via the food chain, or that prion ingestion (or lack thereof) affects human long-term memory.

      Assuming it's the memory of the animal itself, why would food producers care? These animals don't need to remember much more than how to mill around in a field for a while eating before being lead off to slaughter.
  • by maroberts (15852)
    ARS, with assistance from researchers at Hematech and the University of Texas, evaluated the cattle using careful observation, post-mortem examination of two of the animals ...I'd be livid!
  • New study! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @08:16AM (#17430562)
    So how long until we get a new study that says Prions were indeed good things, and should have been left in our meat.

    From TFA: "Prions are proteins that are naturally produced in animals."

    Hmm... Removing natural things... Nope, doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I just can't wait until they find out that Prions actually helped prevent cancer or something and everyone on the planet now has a timebomb in their body.

    Seriously, they'd better do some SERIOUS studies on this before feeding this crap to me.
    • by aussie_a (778472)

      Hmm... Removing natural things... Nope, doesn't sound like a good idea to me.
      You do realise tumors are natural, right?

      Seriously, they'd better do some SERIOUS studies on this before feeding this crap to me.
      Why not simply enforce strict guidelines for packaging and informing customers (for butchers who don't package it in anything except free bags and brown paper bags)?
      • by Aladrin (926209)
        The common cold is natural, too. In fact, everything is 'natural' if you want to define it that way.

        Tumors are the body destroying itself. It may be 'natural', but it's not helpful at all to the organism.

        Prions... Well, we dunno wtf they are, except that they are a protein. Proteins were good things, last I checked, and your body needs many, many different ones to function. Until they know what it does and doesn't do, they'd be fools to release prion-free beef onto the market.
        • by Vellmont (569020)

          Prions... Well, we dunno wtf they are, except that they are a protein.

          So you don't know what they are, but you're suddenly making predictions about how we shouldn't "mess with them" because they might be important?

          Prions are miss-folded proteins. Your body doesn't need miss-folded proteins. In fact your body doesn't need proteins directly at all, it needs certain amino acids that it can't make on it's own. Proteins are constructed from amino acids.
          • by Aladrin (926209)
            Read it again, troll. I said we need to determine what they do first. I didn't predict anything. I simply stated that they'd be fools to mess with things they don't know anything about yet. That's pretty much 'common sense'.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Vellmont (569020)

              I simply stated that they'd be fools to mess with things they don't know anything about yet.

              See, the thing is we actually DO know a lot about nutrition and proteins. At the very least we know that prions provides us nothing we need in our diet. It sounds like you're the one that knows nothing about it. In the future I'd suggest not talking about things you know nothing about.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      Hmm... Removing natural things... Nope, doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

      If you believe natural==good, I'd suggest a nice big bowl of anthrax this morning. It's 100% natural, so it must be in some way good for you, right? You could also eat some nice castor beans, which contain one of the most toxic poisons known as ricin. The feces in cows is also 100% natural, so you'll probbably get some disease from not eating that, right?

      If you think that "messing with nature" is a bad thing, you should probbabl
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Well, the prion-free cows haven't complained so far. But, then again, they never really did before either.

      -Eric

  • As some other posters noted, these prions improve/allow memory. One must wonder, if they can do this with cattle, how long it is until they figure out how to do it to humans...

    /tinfoilhat
  • Tube Steak Precursor (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    An important point is that a lot of work on artificial/cultured muscle research is dependent on using fluids derived from cows as a growth medium, both from a compatibility and cost standpoint. However, a large barrier to commercial artificial meat research/production is keeping that fluid free of prions both in a small lab setting as well as in industrial quantities. This is the reason why when those scientists cultured meat and cooked it, they weren't allowed to eat it due to prion safety.

    If they can suce
  • by punterjoe (743063) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @09:12AM (#17430818)
    I too wondered why "big science" would try to come up with a way to create cattle that can still be fed 'cannibal chow' without getting sick, instead of just changing the feed to something healthy, when I realised there are no IP licensing rights for natural, healthy cattle. This 'super cow' is surely patentable :(
        My other disappointment is that so much time & resourcefulness was spent on this rather than a way to prevent prion diease from taking it's toll on the untold people who have eaten infected 'industrial-beef' through fast food & other sources but won't show symptoms for many years.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @09:49AM (#17430978)
    If that does not sound like wishful thinking, I don't know what does. Also keep in mind that they have a really strong interest in not finding anything....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ebuck (585470)
      To a real scientist, "no apparent developmental abnormalities" means that they're hedging their bets. They haven't seen any developmental abnormalities, but as scientists, they know that it is impossible to observe every detail in their lifetime, so they're just saying that they haven't discovered one yet.

      A scientist doesn't have a strong interest in not finding things, finding things is what makes a scientist's career successful.

      Business sponsored research isn't science. Business sponsored research usual
  • More MPG? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Kennon (683628)
    Isn't Prion the name of that hybrid fuel car from Toyota? I didn't think it was big enough to drive cows around in anyway...
  • wouldn't you have to ensure it has no proteins of any type.

    Now, if the article title/blurb said "no mad-cow prions", I wouldn't be so picky, but this said no prions, without qualifier.

    "Aye, the cow aint got no prions! 'course 'ees dead, but thar be no prions in that thar cow!"

    (yes, I read TFA, I know they meant mad-cow prions, not prions in general).
  • by Programmer_Errant (1004370) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @10:35AM (#17431306)
    The prions that cause BSE are externally introduced through cattle feed. You'd have to have all the components of cattle feed be produced from prion free animals also. Not likely unless all cattle feed was constantly tested for the presence of any prions at all.
  • What sort of pri0n do cows watch anyways?
  • by Mr Z (6791) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @01:49PM (#17433312) Homepage Journal

    Ok, so BSE damages prions which leads to all the characteristics of the disease. No prions, no disease. But does that necessarily mean no infection?

    BSE can be passed to humans. Is it possible that these genetically modified cows are just modern day Typhoid Marys?

    --Joe

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