Prions are common, at least in yeast

Study suggests these proteins may not be rare in other organisms either

1:07pm, April 2, 2009

Prions are not rare, usually are not harmful and may even help organisms adapt, a new study in yeast suggests.

Prions are shape-shifting proteins that change function along with their shapes, and can convert other proteins of the same type to the new shape. Prions tend to clump together in tight groups known as amyloids. The most famous prion is PrP, a protein found in the brains of mammals that sometimes twists into an infectious form and causes mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people. Scientists are still trying to determine the function of the normal form of the protein.

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