10:34 26 June 2008
NewScientist.com news service
Fancy a dose of prions with your vegetables? A new study suggests that infectious prions - thought to be the causative agents in mad cow disease and human vCJD – can survive wastewater decontamination and wind up in fertiliser, potentially contaminating fruit and vegetables.
The prions would be present in such low quantities that they are unlikely to pose a health threat, but as a precaution, "we should prevent the entry of prions into wastewater treatment plants," says microbiologist Joel Pedersen, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, US, who led the research.
Prions could end up in wastewater treatment plants via slaughterhouse drains, hunted game cleaned in a sink, or humans with vCJD shedding prions in their urine or faeces, Pedersen says.
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