..... comparative genomics really only teaches us about evolution. It's not relevant to medicine, outside of predicting the evolution of pathogens. We're not benefiting human medicine by sequencing, say, red pandas or sea turtles, although these things are certainly important for other reasons. There are occasionally exceptional genomes, like the naked mole rat (immune to cancer), but these are rare.
Comparative genomics are of enormous importance to the field of cisgenesis/intragenesis. Somewhat inbetween traditional plant breeding and inter-species genetic engineering, intragenics seeks to modify a target organism by transferring genes from related organisms. When applied to agriculture, there are practical savings in resources expended when trying to create new cultivars of existing crops. For more see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17692557
Oh well. I'm trying to talk to the wrong crowed here. Let me find another soap box somewhere else.
Instead of getting on another soap box and saying anything at all, would you consider stopping to listen to what others are saying? There are many insights being expressed here that are worth thinking about and learning from. If you do have to say something, consider asking an engaging question.
I think the proposed usage was more of a "I want to destroy all of civilization by poisoning schoolchildren's lunchmeat" scenario than a targeted weapon.
I'm sorry for coming a bit late to the discussion. Who's proposal? It seems to me that a Kill-every-living-human/WMD-type device that takes months to years to take effect in a statistically small proportion of the exposed target population wouldn't be a very good way to achieve any kind of military or political objective in any sensible way. If on the other hand, you are a non-state actor trying to spread terror....I'll give you that, maybe. But still, there are no historic precedence to my knowledge of any extremist groups declaring to the world: "give us what we want or we will give you brain cooties". True, symptoms of fevers/bleeding/malaise of things like bird flu makes for dramatic visuals in the same way conveyed by WWI photos of soldiers blinded by mustard gas. In contrast, aside from the scary name of Mad Cow Disease, how many in the general public can identify the symptoms of vCJD much less know what it is? Put it another way, Do you think a terrorist would consider it a good idea to weaponize HIV? Similar in a lot of way - certainly easier to get and transmit, but just not practical from a common sense perspective.
This is a totally different scenario from normal warfare, for which an unmodified form of the disease vector would do just fine.
Exactly! In unmodified form, the disease vector is terribly inefficient - being statistically significant enough infection-wise to make your target sit up and take notice, but otherwise doesn't nearly approach the virulence that true pestilences of the past have cause death and destruction among the masses. It really isn't going to kill very many people. I guess what I am trying to say is, no matter how you cut it, prions - as we currently understand them - do not have the qualities of a good biological weapon regardless of what kind of war you are trying to fight with it. I would assert thus, that given the slow acting nature and generally vague symptoms (which can easily be mistaken for other neurological issues in the absence of post-mortem histological analysis), the only appropriate role for prions as a weapon of some sort is along the lines of some kind of assassination tool. That is, if other short comings can be addressed.
Speaking generally, I would guess that the period before symptoms manifest on a given prion is unmodifiable, and is directly linked to that protein's role in the organism.
Last I was aware, no one has yet divined the role played by PrP in living organisms. (It must be important though because the sucker is highly conserved across many species.) It has been a while since I've kept up with this stuff, so it is entirely possible that something within the last few months has been published that can be used to put numbers on this thing. However, The matter of symptoms can be really tricky to pin down. We've made great strides in illuminating many aspects of prion molecular biology, but not nearly enough to say we truly comprehend disease pathology. To complicate matters further, the brain is an incredibly resilient organ capable of taking quit a bit of abuse by adapting and compensating around damage. It may very well be the reason why symptoms take so long to appear is because victims brains are actively rewiring around parts damaged by plaque formation. I don't know if plasticity is something that has yet been quantified and/or standardized across all people. But given the range of brains, even in a place like slashdot, there are different levels of suceptability. I could very well be wrong, but I think it is premature to be asserting any kind of symptom time frame in association with a protein function that still isn't clear at all. From a strictly experimental perspective, however, I am optimistic analytic tools and techniques can be applied with further effort to help establish the "conversion" mechanism prion infection (if it is indeed that. the protein only hypothesis still has detractors) to the point where it can be possible to artificially enhance/accelerate the process to induce higher virulence. ehrrr.....I am *NOT* suggesting we do that, though - just that maybe we can....if we wanted to....which we never would. Crap. I need to get some sleep.