“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans, the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia,” John Collinge of the Institute of Neurology’s prion unit said at University College London. UCL led the research amongst others.
Imagine living in a country where it’s customary to eat brains of dead relatives at funerals. Crazy, right? Maybe not as loony as it sounds as researches from Britain discover. It could be conferring you with immunity and resistance against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons disease. Maybe Hannibal has a method to his madness after all?
As horrific as it sounds, tribes in Papau New Guinea used to practice this ritual on a regular basis. The women would eat the brains of the dead, and men would eat the skin. The practice led to Kuru, a neurodegenerative disorder in the Fore tribe which killed off 2 percent of their population. Over time, the cannibalistic rituals and customs have ameliorated leading to a decline in the disorder of Kuru.
However, researchers from Britain claim they have found that the tribe has developed natural resistance against Mad Cow disease, a gene responsible for protecting them from prion related diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, leading to a more stable mental health. The emergence of the CJD resistance gene means that the current members of the tribe are able to resist kuru, and they are also able to stave off different elements of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s too.
Prions which recently surfaced at the turn of the century, are infectious agents, specifically protein in a misfolded form. The word prion, coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner, is derived from the words protein and infection. The protein itself, whether in its misfolded or its correctly folded form, can be referred to as the prion protein (PrP). It causes deadly diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Mad Cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in sheep and cattle.