THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

"Collectively, the diseases linked to infectious prions are called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs, because of the spongy appearence they give the brain."

"Given that the abnormal prions are notoriously hard to destroy — they resist temperatures as high as 120°C and are not broken down by the enzymes that usually degrade proteins — is it wise to be creating new types of them in the lab?"

"The technique initally incubates a small amount of abnormal prion with an excess of normal protein, so that some conversion take place. The growing chain of misfolded protein is then blasted with ultrasound, breaking it down into smaller chains and so rapidly increaseing the amount of abnormal protein available to cause conversions."

"Byron Caughey and his team at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, have been working on making prions in the test tube for more than a decade. In 1995, they showed that infectious prions made in the absence of cells retain strain-specific qualities, such as tending to convert only prions from the species, which suggests that no other cellular components are needed for the prion's activity."
Nature, p134-135, Vol439, 12Jan2006