Prions are tiny strings of protein.  The name is derived from Proteinaceous Infectious Particle.  Although they cannot be classified as truly "living", they are infectious agents consisting entirely of protein without any nucleic acid.   Like many complex organic molecules, their structure is chiral (right or left-handed) and while left- handed molecules are harmless, the right-handed molecule is potentially highly dangerous as well as being infectious.

They are noted for causing brain degeneration - new-form Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans.  This is believed to derive from Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) - "Mad Cow Disease" - which devastated the United Kingdom's cattle herds in the 1980's and still poses a risk.  The Sheep disease "Scrapie" is another form of prion disease and it is possible that BSE originally derived from it.

For more information visit UK Government, Ministry of Agriculture BSE Information Site. and the Official Mad Cow Disease Home Page.

Prions are outside the area of study considered on this site.



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