News of the WeekCell Biology

Generating New Yeast Prions

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Science  28 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5453, pp. 562-563
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5453.562b

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In this issue and in the current issue of Molecular Cell, researchers report new evidence in the long-running debate over whether abnormal proteins called prions act alone to cause disease such as the human neurodegenerative condition Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and the similar "mad cow disease." On page 661, geneticists report that they have created an artificial prion by fusing part of a yeast prion protein called Sup35 to a normal cellular protein from the rat. Like known yeast prions, this chimeric protein altered the biochemical properties of yeast cells in ways that could be inherited by progeny cells. By showing that prion characteristics can be transferred by these protein segments, the work bolsters the "protein only" theory of prion disease transmission, although skeptics are unlikely to be convinced.