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When People Ate People, A Strange Disease Emerged

Stashed in: life, Brain

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But it wasn't a virus — or a bacterium, fungus, or parasite. It was an entirely new infectious agent, one that had no genetic material, could survive being boiled, and wasn't even alive.

As another group would find years later, it was just a twisted protein, capable of performing the microscopic equivalent of a Jedi mind trick, compelling normal proteins on the surface of nerve cells in the brain to contort just like them. The so-called "prions," or "proteinaceous infectious particles," would eventually misfold enough proteins to kill pockets of nerve cells in the brain, leaving the cerebellum riddled with holes, like a sponge.

The process was so odd that some compared it to Dr. Jekyll's transformation to Mr. Hyde: "the same entity but in two manifestations — a 'kind', innocuous one and a 'vicious', lethal one."

I had no idea the kind of havoc a twisted protein could create. 

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