Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Infectious Prions & the Mad Munchies

During my visit to the fantastic Eastwood High School in Glasgow I was asked an interesting question by a Zombiology student. Why aren’t infectious prions broken down in the stomach?

Those of you aware of my Zombieism research will know my focus has been on how a prion disease similar to Kuru or variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease could bring about Zombieism.

Most of you will also be familiar with the theory that vCJD or the ‘human form of mad cow disease’ was brought about by eating BSE infected animal products. The same goes for Kuru; it was widely spread by the practice of cannibalism.

So why are our super strong stomachs not as capable of coping with these infectious prions as they are with jalapenos?

Well the normal form of the prion protein is produced naturally in all mammals and is harmless. However altered forms of these prion proteins can become infectious agents. Usually when a foreign agent enters our bodies, through ingestion or otherwise, our immune system recognises it as a threat and attacks it.

Prickly prions appear however to be masters of disguise. It may be that they are absorbed through the gut wall where they then pass themselves off to the immune as something helpful to the body. Once inside they begin to multiply at lymphoid sites and start the journey through the nervous system to the brain.

So the reason that infectious prions aren’t broken down in our body is because our immune system doesn’t recognise them as a threat.

Rogue prions are resistant wee beasties, bear in mind with acquired cases of Kuru & vCJD infected meat would have been cooked thoroughly first. This also demonstrates why a flame-thrower is probably the worst weapon for a zombie outbreak and why the best is still science.   
 Check out this great wee website for more on prions:

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Necrosis, not just a good name for a death metal band

Hello Zombiology Students,
This week I had the honour of giving a lecture to the fine members of G-Gnomes, the Genetics & Molecular Biology Society at the University of Glasgow. 

A student named Kyle asked me if Necrosis might play a role in Zombieism. Due to a recent feather duster related blow to the head I was unable to provide him with an answer at the time but now, thanks to my third year students, I can.

We're all shedding cells faster than Katie Price sheds blokes, around a 50 - 70 billion are replaced every day. The normal process of cells dying is known as Apoptosis. Certain circumstances, such as infections, cancer and spider bites amongst other things, can bring about the condition Necrosis in our cells.

Necrosis causes our cells to break down in a disorganized manner. It is very different from what happens to our bodies when they normally die.

As you can see in the picture on the right this poor fellow has suffered a rather nasty spider bite. His leg most certainly looks as if it'd waltz through any zombie audition. Actually he wouldn't. His leg was amputated from the knee up shortly after this picture was taken.

My point is that if a zombie did suffer from Necrosis and went untreated he would soon virtually disintegrate. Just as a decomposing one would. Luckily unlike decomposition Necrosis can be treated.

That's the great thing about studying Zombieism, it's always taking us down new avenues. Sure the people in those avenues might try and eat our brains but hey, that's the middle class for you.

Thanks to the G-Gnomes for having me and Kyle for his question.

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen