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Name: Nicole
Status: Student
Location: NC
Date: N/A 

I recently read an article about BSE, or Mad Cow disease. It was a newspaper article about the first case of Mad Cow found on a farm in Alabama. The cow was killed by a local veterinarian and then buried on the farm. I know that the disease is not a virus, but a prion, which are abnormal proteins. If the cow disintegrates into the soil and its body is eventually the fertilizer of the grass above it, can the disease be transferred to the grass above the area in which the cow was buried? If the disease can be transferred to the grass, can other cows who feed on the grass possibly contract the disease?

Great question! There is much scientists don't know about prion diseases and questions like yours are critical if we are to control these diseases.

Currently, there are a number of scientists conducting studies to try to answer exactly the question that you thought of! We think that if an animal is buried far enough below the surface and away from where cattle graze, this should keep other animals from becoming infected. But soil could be important if animals die in a pasture, or, for other prion diseases, if infected wild animals die in the woods or plains, and then disintegrate on the surface.

So, right now, there isn't an answer to your question... perhaps you'll become the scientist who comes up with the anwer!

Laura Hungerford, DVM, MPH, PhD
University of Maryland
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