posted on Jun, 12 2015 @ 06:20 PM
The traditional funerary practices of the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea involve dismembering, defleshing and consuming their dead, including brain
and spinal tissue. These cannibalistic practices were outlawed in the 1950's and by that time, the prion disease Kuru had decimated the tribe's
population. Now researchers believe they have identified a mutation carried by members of the tribe that confers protection against prion disease.
The Papua New Guinea tribe, known as the Fore people, used to conduct a funeral ritual that involved consuming the human brain. Early in the
20th century, tribe members began to develop kuru, a neurological disorder caused by infectious prions, which are proteins that fold abnormally and
form lesions in the brain. This was the start of an epidemic of kuru among the Fore people, which at its peak in the 1950s, killed up to 2 percent of
the tribe each year.
Recently, researchers discovered that some of the people who survived the kuru epidemic carry a genetic mutation
called V127, whereas those who developed kuru did not have this mutation. This led the researchers to suspect that V127 conferred protection against
In a new study, researchers genetically engineered mice to have the V127 mutation, and then injected the animals with infectious prions. Results
showed that mice with one copy of the 127V mutation were resistant to kuru, as well as a similar disease called classical Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Mice with two copies of V127 were resistant to those diseases, as well as another prion disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is
sometimes referred to as the "human form of mad cow disease."
And because everyone likes pictures and I can't find a decent one of Fore tribal members without nudity, here's a picture of cross sections of two
brains, one displaying the degenerative wasting indicative of prion diseases (left) and the other a healthy brain (right):
I find this research interesting for two reasons:
1. Prion disease is super scary. I was probably 14 or 15 when I saw my first documentary on BSE ("Mad Cow")/vCJD and to this day I wince a little when
I eat beef hotdogs (alas, I still eat beef hotdogs because they're delicious). It can take years for an infected person to manifest the disease —
the Fore for example, didn't eat the brains of those exhibiting symptoms — so an outbreak can occur without anyone knowing for years. It's also
invariably fatal and among the more horrible deaths a person could have. There has been some promising research in recent years, indicating that the
antimalaria drug Mepacrine
might be useful for binding to prions.
2. It's an observation of the most fundamental evolutionary mechanism in action. It's estimated that before their funerary practices were outlawed, 2%
or more of the Fore population died annually from Kuru and because some the brain was disproportionately consumed by the very young and the elderly,
there was a increased likelihood that members of the tribe who didn't carry the mutation would die before parenting children. As the researchers
noted, given enough time (and assuming the mutation doesn't result in some sort of disadvantage) the Fore people would have eventually become immune
to prion disease.
edit on 2015-6-12 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)