Irradiation and Mad Cow
Name: Kristin L.
Does the irradiation process affect the Mad Cow disease?
...like the irradiation of red meats is being evaluated, would this
process kill the Mad Cow disease?
The problem with Mad Cow is that it is not caused by a living entity. It is
caused by a prion which is an altered form of a natural protein (as far as
the current research shows). This is why we refer to prions as "infectious
particles" instead of organisms. If the irradiation can denature the
protein and inactivate it, it might work. But, I am not sure anyone knows
Not likely unless the radiation degraded the meat beyond recognition. Our
best understanding of Mad Cow disease is that it is caused by proteins.
Irradiation kills germs by damaging their DNA. Proteins are much less
sensitive to radiation damage, so the levels of radiation used to sterilize
food probably will not be sufficient to protect against protein-based
Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois
Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Office of Science
Department of Energy
Irradiation can effectively kill bacteria to combat
food poisoning but it is ineffective against proteins,
such as the prion (a 'wrongly' folded protein) that
causes mad cow disease.
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Update: June 2012