Das Prionenpuzzle

ZÜRICH – Der Rinderwahnsinn in Großbritannien, der die Schlachtung von 3,7 Millionen Kühen zur Folge hatte und die britische Viehindustrie schwer traf, brach auf heimtückische Weise aus. 1986 bekam eine britische Kuh eine unbekannte Gehirnkrankheit. Im Jahr darauf ergaben Tests, dass ihr Gehirn von einer Myriade kleiner Vacuolen zersetzt worden war und eine schwammartige Konsistenz angenommen hatte, was zum wissenschaftlichen Namen der Krankheit führte: bovine spongiforme Enzephalopathie. Innerhalb weniger Monate traten im ganzen Land Fälle auf.

Eine ähnliche Krankheit mit dem Namen Traberkrankheit hatte bereits Schafe infiziert, war aber noch nicht bei Kühen diagnostiziert worden. Und eine fast identische und absolut tödliche Krankheit, Kuru, hatte im 20. Jahrhundert unter den Aborigines in Papua-Neuguinea gewütet. Sowohl Kuru als auch die Traberkrankheit sind ansteckend.

<>Kuru wurde durch kannibalische Rituale verbreitet, die in Papua-Neuguinea New Guinea bis zu den 1950ern weit verbreitet waren. Auch in Großbritannien und anderswo wurde gesundes Vieh mit Fleisch und Knochenmehl gefüttert, die von infizierten Tieren stammten. Dies führte zu einer Tierseuche, die mehr als 280.000 Kühe befiel. Ihren Höhepunkt erreichte der Rinderwahnsinn im Jahr 1992, als ihm wöchentlich fast 1000 Rinder zum Opfer fielen.

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