Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Prions
Name: Donna
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

Does anyone have any information about prions? My genetics professor mentioned them in class but there is no information about them in our textbooks. All I know about them is that they seem to be capable of replication but have no nucleic acid - only proteins. Theyhave been associated with such diseases as Kuru, Mad Cow Disease, and Scrapie, and may also be involved in Alzeimers. Any more information would be helpful. Thanks!

Okay, that's a hard one, since they're still working on prions at present, and I can't say for sure why they do what they do, but I can advance a few of my own theories, and hopefully that may suffice (until some molecular biologist, biochemist, epidemiologist, or virologist logs on and says I'm full of it...) Prions are indeed composed of protein, but are in the form of a particle like a virus. Proteins can actually directly affect DNA by binding to sections of the genetic code and blocking the replication of DNA, transcription of genes into RNA, and they can also (depending on the protein, of course..) act as enzymes upon cellular contents. Therefore, prions may act either by affecting the internal regulation of genetic expression or by changing the composition of the cellular contents, causing either mutation, failure to synthesize necessary compounds, or cleavage of existing compounds within the cells affected (neurons, for example, in the case of kuru).


Click here to return to the Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory