A new study published online by Nature, the international weekly journal of science, suggests that a long-standing cannibalistic ritual among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea may actually provide a genetic resistance to a number of fatal brain diseases including dementia, kuru and mad cow disease. Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post describes the gruesome practice in a recent article.
The Fore people, a once-isolated tribe in eastern Papua New Guinea, had a long-standing tradition of mortuary feasts — eating the dead from their own community at funerals. Men consumed the flesh of their deceased relatives, while women and children ate the brain. It was an expression of respect for the lost loved ones, but the practice wreaked havoc on the communities they left behind.
This “mortuary feast” quickly led to a deadly degenerative disease among the population. But after years of devouring the brains of the recently deceased, it is now believed that the practice may have contributed to a single gene that protects against deadly prions; the cause of mad cow disease, fatal insomnia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease… not to mention a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Our experts at the Zombie Research Society have studied the theoretical impact of prions as a possible cause of the inevitable zombie apocalypse for years. However, this recent report may provide the first suggestion of a possible vaccine! While humans and every other vertebrate animal in the world possess an amino acid called glycine, the Fore have developed a resistant amino acid, called valine.
When scientists re-created the genetic anomaly of the Fore in mice, they were found to be completely resistant to all eighteen strains of prion tested. If the zombie plague is eventually found to be the result of mutant prion-producing proteins, this new information could provide a vital clue to a possible vaccine and the salvation of humanity!
For more information please read the complete report online at Nature, a full explanation of the possible benefits of protection against human prions by Glenn Telling, and a great summary of the overall discussion by Sarah Kaplan at The Washington Post.