Stories tagged mad-cow disease


Oh my God! She's doing it right now!: Each to their own, but...
Oh my God! She's doing it right now!: Each to their own, but...Courtesy wallyg
According to a new paper in the journal Medical Hypotheses, cannibalism and its associated neurodegenerative diseases may have contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals 30,000 years ago.

The cause of the Neanderthals’ extinction has long been something of a mystery to science. Even the rate at which they disappeared is unclear—some scientists believe that their extinction as a species was gradual, and due to an inability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, or because of interbreeding with Cro-Magnon people over an extended period of time. Others believe that the extinction was relatively rapid, and could have been caused by direct, violent confrontation (or at least competition) with the Cro-Magnon, or by a strong susceptibility to certain diseases.

The new cannibalism theory fits in with this last idea to some extent. Combining fossil evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism with ethnological data on the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, the author of the new paper thinks it’s likely that some form of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (or TSE, brain mushing diseases like Mad Cow Disease) could have greatly reduced the Neanderthal population and contributed to their ultimate extinction.

The Fore people were known to have practiced cannibalism to some extent for some time, but beginning around 1900 anthropologists began to observe a neurodegenerative condition called “Kuru” taking hold among the Fore. By the 1960’s, Kuru had reached “epidemic levels” and killed over 1,100 people. Eventually it was discerned that Kuru was a type of TSE, contracted by eating the brains or nervous tissue of other infected individuals, or even by using reusing the tools employed for this type of butchery (even mdern sterilization techniques don’t always remove the prions that cause TSE’s from surgical implements.)

Some fossil evidence in France seems to suggest that Neanderthals, on occasion at least, consumed the flesh of others of their species, including their brains. If cannibalism were prevalent among Neanderthals and a TSE was introduced into the food chain, as it were, the effects could have been devastating on the population.

Which brings me back to my titular point: the major hole in this theory is that no one in their right mind (although TSE’s probably redefine “right mind”) would want to eat a Neanderthal, even other Neanderthals. I mean, they look so… lumpy. Yuck. Of all the primates, extant and otherwise, Neanderthals are probably the least appetizing to me. Would I eat an orangutan? I certainly would. Java Man? In a heartbeat. And, really, the only thing keeping me from eating bonobos is geography. But a Neanderthal? Bleh. Their brains probably taste like wet towels and fish aspic.

I suppose the author of the paper has a response to this not covered in the article I saw (paprika, maybe?), but, as far as I’m concerned, a recipe can only take you so far. Next theory, please.


Running on empty: photo by corypina on
Running on empty: photo by corypina on
Citing concern over Creutzfeldt-Jakob, or Mad Cow, disease spreading from northern Europe, the U.S. has imposed a blanket ban on all sperm imports from countries exposed to the disease. "We still have a little bit left, but not much," said Claus Rodgaard, manager of a Danish-based sperm bank with offices in the U.S.

Some blame faulty policy for the shortage. There is no evidence that Mad Cow disease can be transmitted by sperm, but government authorities insist on maintaining the ban.

The shortage has only highlighted our country’s already much-discussed reliance on foreign sperm. Scientists are hard at work developing a domestically produced alternative, but even the most optimistic estimates place the release of such a substitute decades into the future. A handful of prominent politicians have proposed looking to Alaska, which is reputed to have significant sperm reserves, although some argue that the process of tapping this source would place too much of a strain on the local wildlife.

For the time being, officials are urging the public to adopt many of the same conservation measures developed during the sperm shortage of the 1970s, and the national Ad Council is already planning a relaunch of its controversial “Got Gametes?” campaign.


"Mad cow disease"-also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-is a fatal brain disorder in cows. It's spread by contact with brain or other nervous-system tissue from an animal with the disease. An animal can be infected but not have any symptoms for years. But once the disease is active, it kills brain cells, leaving large, spongy holes. It also causes large clumps of abnormal proteins in the brain and quickly kills the victim.

Scientists still don't know for sure what causes mad cow disease. But the most likely theory is that abnormal proteins called prions (PREE-ons) damage nerve cells, causing loss of brain function and eventual death.

You can read more about prions and how scientists think they might cause mad cow disease:
click here

Scientists think mad cow disease came from a similar disease in sheep called scrapie. We used to feed cows meat and bone meal-from other cows, but also animals such as sheep-leftover after processing for human consumption. Cows ate food contaminated with scrapie and developed BSE. At the time, people thought that neither scrapie nor BSE affected us, so meat from BSE-infected cows got into the human food supply. People who ate the infected meat-probably hamburger or other processed meats-developed a disease similar to the cows'.

You can find out a lot more about mad cow disease and its human manifestation:
click here

The US government has made some rules to try and protect people here from the disease. It has banned the import of cud-chewing animals (cows, sheep, goats) and products made from them from Europe. It prohibits the use of any mammal products in food for cows. Cows with unidentified neurological disorders cannot be eaten. Drug companies can't use animal tissues from countries with mad cow disease when they make vaccines or other products. And people who spent more than six months in the UK (where the mad cow disease epidemic was first identified) between 1980 and 1986 are not allowed to donate blood.

Do the new rules make you feel safer about eating meat? Have you changed any of your eating habits since mad cow reports came out in the media?