20 May 2011

Lichens may be able to kill prions

What has made prions difficult to control is their infamous durability. Boil water for a few minutes, and all the bacteria and viruses will be gone. Not so for the prion: it will be just fine, ready to infect. How does it fare in a dry heat of 600 degrees C? No problem there, either. How about ionizing radiation? Bring it on...

So news that a natural answer exists for prions is welcome. In a paper published May 17 in PLoS One , Christopher Johnson of the U.S. Geological Survey of the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., and his team describe experiments with lichens, symbiotic collections of algae, fungus and bacteria that casual observers might mistake for moss. Three common species of lichens, the team has found, exude an enzyme that breaks down the prion.

The scientists achieved the results in a test tube, but they suspect that lichen power will work in the wild. "While great caution must be exercised in extrapolating in vitro studies to environmental conditions, our data suggest lichens could contribute to prion degradation on the landscape," they wrote, noting that inactivation might occur when prions come into direct contact with the lichens or with nearby soil. The team plans to test the hypothesis and even see if animals are protected from CWD if they eat the lichens.
Further details at Scientific American.

Photo: Parmelia sulcata, credit to Derrick Ditchburn/U.S. Geological Survey

1 comment:

  1. Prions, CWD, BSE, CJD- all make for exciting conversations at our house. I hadn't heard of this study before and look forward to sharing it with my daughter.

    Chronic wasting disease in cervids has afflicted a significant number of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. I believe it is one in every 11 elk.


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