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5. Some Of The Fore People Of Papua New Guinea Are Immune To Kuru And Mad Cow Disease

Kuru is the name of a deadly brain disease that broke out among members of the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea in the 20th century. It was the result of tribesmen eating the brains of their dead as part of their burial rites.

Some of the consumed brains were infected with prion disease, which caused kuru. The majority of the deaths occurred in the 1950s, forcing the tribesmen to abandon the tradition. At that time, 2 percent of the tribesmen died every year.

Today, several tribesmen are immune to kuru and will not get it even if they eat the infected brain of a dead person. They are also immune to similar diseases, including mad cow disease. This protection has been traced to the unique V127 genetic mutation present in the bodies of kuru survivors. Descendants of tribesmen who never had kuru do not have the mutation or the immunity to kuru and mad cow disease.

To test their theory, researchers used genetic engineering to develop some mice with the mutation before injecting the animals with the different brain diseases. They found that the mice were immune to kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, depending on whether the animals had one or two copies of the V127 mutation.

As to the Fore people, researchers believe that all of them would have become immune to kuru and similar brain diseases if they had continued to eat the brains of their dead.

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