Considering that I’ve eaten my fair share of British beef (I lived in England for a few years, and had a soft spot for the hamburgers at my local gastropub), this study was not welcome news. Here is the NY Times nut graf:
The long lives that some former cannibals enjoy before succumbing to a brain-wasting disease suggest that many more humans will eventually die of mad cow disease, scientists said Thursday.
The scientists arrived at their unsettling conclusion by studying the Fore tribe, who used to honor their dead by butchering them, eating their flesh, and smearing themselves with their brain tissue. But cannibalism is a bad idea for many reasons, and the Fore were almost wiped out by kuru, a prion disease transmitted by infected nervous systems (much like mad-cow disease.) What these scientists found was that kuru could incubate for as long as 56 years before killing its victim. The bad prions just quietly lurked in their head, waiting to convert their healthy tissue over to the dark side.
As always with prions, this study is controversial. The only thing we know for sure about prions is that we don’t know very much. After all, some scientists now think that prion-like proteins are essential for long term memory…