Thursday, June 01, 2006

two scary science-of-food notes

From ScienceNow, two stories this morning about scary things in food...

First is a story about some new research suggesting that the metal manganese may, in part, cause the initial mis-folding of proteins that ends up causing Mad Cow Disease and related prion problems. Those diseases happen when proteins, whose function is determined by the shape that they naturally fold, fold in the wrong way. And not just any wrong way, but a wrong way that is contagious. So once you get one mis-folded protein, you then get many many misfolded proteins, none of which can be broken down in your body, and then you're in real trouble. The new research, in yeast, suggests that manganese binding to the proteins can cause the mis-folding. "That could explain why outbreaks of prion diseases have popped up in Iceland, Slovakia, and Colorado--regions with soils high in manganese."

And second is a story about those anti-bacterial agents (triclosan and triclocarbon) that are now in almost every hand soap you can buy. It's long been suggested that having anti-bacterials in everything will breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the new study shows that the triclocarbon ends up in high concentrations in wastewater sludge. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except that that sludge, after being treated in sewage treatment plants, is often spread on agricultural fields as fertilizer. Using some new technology, the researchers shows that the concentration of the chemical in sludge is similar to the concentration in the original hand soap! The chemical, which causes infertility and possibly cancer when ingested in large quantities, may then show up in food, or may affect bacteria in the soil. And nobody knows the consequences...

Have a nice day!

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