Okay, so maybe prions aren't actually alive, per se, and maybe it's scary as hell that one could be created and gee, it better not get let out of the lab, eh?. But, wow.
Scientists are reporting that, for the first time, they have made an artificial prion, or misfolded protein, that can, by itself, produce a deadly infectious disease in mice and may help explain the roots of mad cow disease.
The findings, being reported on Friday in the journal Science, are strong evidence for the so-called "protein only hypothesis," the controversial idea that a protein, acting alone without the help of DNA or RNA, can cause certain kinds of infectious diseases.
Also, we get a stronger body slam from a doubter than usually makes it into print:
Dr. Laura Maneulidis, a neuropathologist at the Yale University Medical School, one of Dr. Prusiner's most vocal critics, said the prion strain that turned up in the experiment looks like a mouse prion frequently used in Dr. Prusiner's laboratory.
"Basically I think the data look like contamination," she said, possibly stemming from "inadequately washed instruments."