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 Mad Cow's Disease
Name: Micah B.
Status: Student
Age: 10
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

If you cooked beef from a cow that had Mad Cow Disease at higher temperatures than normal boiling would it get rid of the prions?

Good thinking! In general proteins are not very stable at high temperatures. The prions causing BSE are mal-folded proteins, and if we could unfold them by heating there would be no problem. Unfortunately, they are folded into an extremely stable form, and heating to food-preparing temperatures will not destroy them completely. That is the bad news. The good news is, that there are probably very few prion proteins in red meat. If the risky parts of the animal (e.g. brain, tonsils, eyes, bone marrow) are separated from the beef without contamination, the meat should be pretty safe. That is in essence the measures taken in Europe. The other measure is, to test or not eat meat from animals over 3 years of age. It is unlikely that young animals have BSE since it takes several years for the disease to develop.

Dr. Trudy Wassenaar

Prions are not living things but are abnormal versions of proteins that we all have. Something happens to make a certain protein change its shape which makes it behave differently. It starts to accumulate in the brain and nervous system and eats holes in the tissue. When the brain of people who have died of this is looked at it, it looks like a sponge with all the holes. Now as far as whether cooking destroys this protein, I'm not sure. But I think if you go to the website of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, you will find lots of information about this. The website is:
Good luck


Click here to return to the Molecular 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