Navigation Links
Common soil mineral degrades the nearly indestructible prion

MADISON In the rogues' gallery of microscopic infectious agents, the prion is the toughest hombre in town.

Warped pathogens that lack both DNA and RNA, prions are believed to cause such fatal brain ailments as chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and moose, mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. In addition to being perhaps the weirdest infectious agent know to science, the prion is also the most durable. It resists almost every method of destruction from fire and ionizing radiation to chemical disinfectants and autoclaving, which reduce prion infectivity but fail to completely eliminate it.

Now, however, a team of Wisconsin researchers has found that a common soil mineral, an oxidized from of manganese known as birnessite, can penetrate the prion's armor and degrade the protein.

The new finding, which was reported earlier this month (Jan. 2) in the Journal of General Virology, is important because it may yield ways to decontaminate soil and other environments where prions reside.

"Prions are resistant to many of the conventional means of inactivating pathogens," says Joel Pedersen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison environmental chemist and the senior author of the new study. For example, autoclaving, a standard method for sterilization in the laboratory, will reduce the concentration of prions in solution, but fails to eliminate them altogether, as it does for virtually all other types of pathogens.

Because prions infect both wild and domesticated animals, the agent can contaminate barnyards and other areas where infected livestock are kept, as well as persist in natural environments where deer, elk and other animals can become infected by contact with contaminated soil.

Other studies have shown that prions can survive in the soil for at least three years, and that soil is a plausible route of transmission for some animals, Pedersen says. "We know that environmental contamination occurs in deer and sheep at least," he notes.

Prion reservoirs in the soil, Pedersen explains, are likely critical links in the chain of infection because the agent does not appear to depend on vectors intermediate organisms like mosquitoes or ticks to spread from animal to animal.

That the birnessite family of minerals possessed the capacity to degrade prions was a surprise, Pedersen says. Manganese oxides like birnessite are commonly used in such things as batteries and are among the most potent oxidants occurring naturally in soils, capable of chemically transforming a substance by adding oxygen atoms and stripping away electrons. The mineral is most abundant in soils that are seasonally waterlogged or poorly drained.

"A variety of manganese oxide minerals exist and one of the most common is birnessite. They are common in the sense that you find them in many soils, but in low concentrations," says Pedersen. "They are among the strongest oxidants in soil."

The new study, which was led by Fabio Russo of the University of Naples and Christopher J. Johnson of UW-Madison, was conducted on prions in solution in the laboratory. The group's working hypothesis, according to Pedersen, is that the mineral oxidizes the prion, a chemical process that can be seen in things like iron oxidizing to form rust or how cut pears and apples turn brown when exposed to oxygen.

The next step, Pedersen says, is to mix the mineral with contaminated soil to see if it has the same effect. If it does, birnessite may become a useful tool for cleaning up contaminated farmyards and other places where the prion may be concentrated in the soil.

"I expect that its efficacy would be somewhat diminished in soil," says Pedersen. "It's something we'll explore."


Contact: Joel Pedersen
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related biology news :

1. Risk of common vaginal infection linked to preterm birth appears higher for blacks
2. Features of replication suggest viruses have common themes, vulnerabilities
3. Genetics determine optimal drug dose of common anticoagulant
4. All eukaryotic kinases share 1 common set of substrates
5. 60 second test could help early diagnosis of common brain diseases
6. Soy isoflavone may inhibit common gastrointestinal illness in infants
7. The importance of gene regulation for common human disease
8. Genes and environment grant funds close look at nature-nurture overlap in common diseases
9. Thriving hybrid salamanders contradict common wisdom
10. UCI researchers restore memory process in most common form of mental disability
11. Drug commonly used to treat bipolar disorder dramatically increases lifespan in worms
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/19/2015)... Nov. 19, 2015  Based on its in-depth analysis ... recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 Global Frost & Sullivan ... & Sullivan presents this award to the company that ... the needs of the market it serves. The award ... and expands on customer base demands, the overall impact ...
(Date:11/18/2015)... ALBANY, New York , November 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... Transparency Market Research has published a new market report ... Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2015 - 2021. According to ... bn in 2014 and is anticipated to reach US$29.1 ... 2015 to 2021. North America ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... LIVERMORE, Calif. , Nov. 17, 2015  Vigilant ... has joined its Board of Directors. ... Vigilant,s Board after recently retiring from the partnership at ... owning 107 companies with over $140 Billion in revenue.  ... performance improvement across all the TPG companies, from 1997 ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015  Twist Bioscience, ... that Emily Leproust, Ph.D., Twist Bioscience chief executive ... Healthcare Conference on December 1, 2015 at 3:10 ... in New York City. --> ... . Twist Bioscience is on Twitter. Sign ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Telbec/ - ProMetic Life Sciences Inc. (TSX: PLI) (OTCQX: PFSCF) ... Laurin , President and Chief Executive Officer of ProMetic, will ... 27 th Annual Healthcare Conference to be held at ... st , at 8.50am (ET) and ProMetic,s management ... The presentation will be available live via a webcast accessible ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 , ... a European healthcare fund ... companies will work closely together in identifying European breakthrough technologies ... need. The collaboration is underpinned by a significant investment by ... is the first investment by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a European ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... 23, 2015   Ceres, Inc . (Nasdaq: ... results for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2015 ... --> --> During fiscal year ... feed products with a better balance of yield, energy ... agreements with several leading crop input providers and made ...
Breaking Biology Technology: