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Medicine

Airborne Prions Prove Lethal In Mouse Studies 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the denny-crane dept.
sgunhouse writes "Wired has a story up on the lethality of airborne prions. It should be noted that prions (which cause 'mad cow disease' and similar disorders) are not normally airborne, and take a long time to kill the infected animal, but so far are 100% lethal if something else doesn't kill the animal first. So, they are not likely to be useful as a biological weapon (my first thought when reading their headline), but they present another safety precaution to consider."
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Airborne Prions Prove Lethal In Mouse Studies

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  • You know what else (Score:2, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Friday January 14, 2011 @06:34PM (#34885074) Homepage Journal

    You know what else is eventually lethal if something else doesn't kill you first? Being human, or in fact just being alive*.

    *Unless you're a bacteria hibernating in a salt crystal, apparently.

  • Says who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 14, 2011 @06:42PM (#34885184)

    So, they are not likely to be useful as a biological weapon

          A weapon that destroys your enemy's economy in a matter of years is still a viable weapon. Especially if it's hard to detect (ie by the time everyone shows signs of being sick, you are no longer deploying the weapon). This is scary stuff.

  • Re:In other words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 14, 2011 @07:46PM (#34885772) Journal
    The other major problem with bioweapons is that they cannot be aimed only at an enemy. They will affect everyone: Friend or foe, combatant or non-combatant, adult or child. Plus, unlike other non-discriminant killers, like land mines, you can never clear an area. You could nuke the area, but the biological agents could return, carried by insects or water or birds.

    Bioweaponry must be banned and banned hard.
  • by ihaque (1074767) on Friday January 14, 2011 @08:15PM (#34885992) Homepage

    After 15+ years of this "ice 9" business I'm still waiting for results that in any way meet Koch's Postulates.

    OK, this one will cover a lot of ground. Weber P et al. Cell-free formation of misfolded prion protein with authentic prion infectivity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 2006 October 24; 103(43): 15818–15823. [nih.gov] It's open-access, so no excuses about being stuck behind a paywall.

    Making claims that biochemists working on prions "don't like to get dirty" is both insulting and disingenuous. Animal models are, in fact, used here to demonstrate that purified PrPsc (misfolded prion protein) is infectious in live hosts, in addition to triggering misfolding in vitro. No one uses farm animals because they're large, expensive, and there's no compelling reason to incur that cost when simpler model animals (here, hamsters) will do.

    why not entertain the notion that this is a slow virus and that the symptomatic misfolded protein is a mere phenotype, possibly detrimental, but not causal

    Well, because the linked paper was able to amplify the infective population of PrPsc in a cell-free system, which would not be conducive to the amplification of a virus.

    I understand the appeal of an underdog hypothesis, but unless you can present a better argument that isn't comprised of ad hominems, vague conspiracy theories, and a smattering of scientific claims answered by 5-year-old literature, I'm not convinced.

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday January 14, 2011 @08:52PM (#34886212) Homepage

    After 15+ years of this "ice 9" business I'm still waiting for results that in any way meet Koch's Postulates.

    But Laura Manuelidis is claiming that vCJD and others are caused by "a slow-acting virus"... and Koch's Postulates aren't strictly applicable to viruses either. The best that Manuelidis has managed to do is to isolate "virus-like DNA signatures" -- which does not even prove the presence of a virus, let alone that a virus is causative. So in the best case scenario, Manuelidis may have raised some questions, but has been no more successful at meeting your preconditions for accuracy than anybody else. You apparently just think she's "fighting the good fight" because -- much like Jenny McCarthy -- she questions the prevailing theory. That attitude is bad science.

  • Re:In other words (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RsG (809189) on Friday January 14, 2011 @09:04PM (#34886260)

    I did cover that with the second paragraph of my post. Prion bioweapons wouldn't be person-to-person contagious the way that viral or bacterial bioweapons are. Hence the comparison between prion weapons and chemical weapons, where in both cases only the people initially exposed will be affected. I should also clarify that I find the notion of actually using bioweapons to be a crime against humanity, but I have no problem hypothesizing about their use.

    Also, the comparison to land mines is inept. Land mines last a long time, but only kill or maim one person per mine. Bioweapons don't last a long time, but can kill or main many people per deployment.

    you can never clear an area. You could nuke the area, but the biological agents could return, carried by insects or water or birds.

    No, this is demonstrably wrong.

    Some, not all, pathogens are transmissible through animal vectors. If you were to weaponize bubonic plague then there could still be rodent carriers inside the exposed area after all human beings have been evacuated or died. Not every bioweapon has an animal vector available to it however, and even the ones that do, the animal must be at least partially asymptomatic in order to remain a threat, or it's going to die in short order. The "worst case" would be a disease that can jump species to something ubiquitous, like rats or mosquitoes, and can infect those species without killing them.

    If you'd stated that some bioweapons remain a threat in a region after deployment, I would have accepted your argument as valid, but the way your post is written suggests that you think all bioweapons can, which is wrong.

    Also, you listed "insects water and birds". Insects and birds belong on that list, and you didn't mention any other animals like rats, but water is another matter entirely. Waterborne transmission due to contamination is temporary. Water itself cannot act as a host. When a disease is waterborne, it either spends part of it's life-cycle in water, like the Guinea Worm, or it's the result of contamination via feces or dead organisms, like cholera.

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