For the first time in six years, mad cow disease has been found in the United States. Officials say the disease was discovered before any meat entered the human food chain, but the incident highlights the long term dangers we face.
Mad cow is caused by bits of infectious protein called prions, and many experts agree that prions are a leading causal contender for the next great zombie pandemic.
In 2010 scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida discovered that prions can develop large numbers of mutations and, through natural selection, these mutations can lead to evolutionary adaptations previously thought not possible.
Charles Weissmann, M.D., Ph.D., is the head of the Scripps Department of Infectology:
“It was previously thought that once cellular prion protein was converted into the abnormal form, there was no further change. But there have been hints that something was happening. Now we know that the abnormal prions replicate, and create variants.”
Though prions are technically lifeless, possessing no DNA or RNA, they are still somehow able to evolve, and researchers can’t explain how this is possible. As the protein continues to mutate in new and unforeseen ways, the likelihood that a prion-based zombie sickness will show its ugly head only increases.
Let’s hope today’ discovery of mad cow in a dairy in central California is not the first sign of the coming undead plague.