- Colin Lowry, cell biologist and Associate Editor of 21st
Century Science & Technology magazine, was interviewed on Feb. 12 on
the danger of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - BSE, or mad cow disease
- and the little-known science of prions.
- The following are selected excerpts from that interview.
- The USDA is also misleading the public on where the prion
pathogen, or BSE, is found in cattle. The press reports, and statements
by Ann Veneman and others from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are
either the result of complete stupidity, or lying. BSE is not found only
in the brain and spinal cord. In an animal that actually is symptomatic
or infected, it will be in all nervous tissue, in the lymph nodes, in the
blood, small amounts in the muscle, in the spleen, in the gut - just about
everywhere. So, to think that you're protecting yourself by not eating
brain and spinal cord, or somehow not recycling those parts into other
animal feed, is just ridiculous - and potentially a lie, because they should
- ...if the prion is bound to a surface, such as steel,
or any other metal, there is an extremely low threshold required to infect
another animal... [T]he prion protein is absolutely resistant, when it
is bound to a steel surface... [such as] slaughterhouse equipment, surgical
instruments, wire, whatever is metal. The prion... is absolutely resistant
to treatment by chemicals, proteases, heat... [and even] irradiation.
- [BSE transmission through blood transfusion] is the real
fear in Britain... France is also worried about the same thing. They've
seen a few of the variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease cases themselves, so
the blood transfusion question is definitely very important to them. And
it will be here in [the US], since we have absolutely none of the safeguards
that they have....
- ...if we start seeing variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob in the
United States, we have no way to backtrack it. We have no way to test it.
We can't say the blood supply is safe at all.
- We do not have a rapid [BSE] test, which the Europeans
have. I mean, we have it, but the USDA just doesn't use it. So, it might
be eight or ten days after a cow is slaughtered, and the meat from it is
already packed up and sent to seven states, that you would then - if you
found infected cattle - have to recall it, which is obviously very difficult...
Then you would have to decontaminate the slaughterhouse, and no one is
even talking about that from the USDA."
- Here in the United States, we also have to deal with
prions in other animals besides cattle. We have mule deer, in the Western
U.S., and we also have white-tail deer, which have become infected with
the prion originally from the mule deer... The question is, how did this
happen? The researchers that look at this have some ideas. These deer in
the West do live in the same habitat. They eat a lot of the same things.
There could be feces contamination; there could be urine. Nobody has a
- There are also a lot of questions about how scrapie spreads
in sheep, that are not fully known. We know it will spread obviously from
mother sheep, through the milk, to its offspring... In an animal that is
symptomatic, or even just pre-symptomatic, the lymph nodes, and therefore
the lymph system, and the tonsils, are loaded with an extremely high level
of prions. So, it is potentially possible, that if they are eating from
the same sources - and the salivary glands are loaded with prions - that
they may be able to somehow spread the disease through their own salivation,
onto the food the other sheep eat. We don't know.
- The problem with the prion diseases is that, because
there is so much unknown, and because there are so many different disciplines
involved, even within biology, there really isn't enough collaboration.
- To deal with it at the cell level, you need experts from
immunology... you need to know veterinary experts, pathologists, neurologists...
And at the protein level, you need biophysicists, and molecular biologists.
And there's not one of those scientific disciplines that can answer the
question of how we can actually handle or control prions. All of them will
have to work together...
- [Scientists who deal with prions] are not going to speak
out, especially with the political repercussions in science... Anne Veneman
has fired more than one person in the last two years.