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 Irradiation and Mad Cow
Name: Kristin L.
Status: Student
Age: 15
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2002

Does the irradiation process affect the Mad Cow disease? 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 for sure.


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 diseases.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois

Highly unlikely!
Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Science Education
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.

Trudy Wassenaar

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