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Ozone corrals mad cow disease.

Prions--the misfolded proteins that cause mad cow disease--are highly resistant to degradation, which is a major problem for animal processors. Canadian research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology has provided convincing evidence that ozone treatment could provide a solution.

Prions cause disease by interacting with normally folded proteins and causing them to misfold. Because of their resistance to degradation, prions can be hazardous for years. Since 2003, Canadian food regulations have classified the brains and spinal cords of all processed cattle as specified risk materials due to the slight possibility that they could contain prions. This means that they must be incinerated or destroyed by hydrolysis with caustic agents like sodium hydroxide (NaOH) at great expense.

Mohamed El-Din, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Alberta, is part of a team that has been researching how effectively ozone can destroy prions. The team exposed controlled amounts of prions to various doses of ozone-saturated solution at a variety of temperatures and pH levels. They then tested whether infectious prion proteins retained the ability to misfold normal proteins in vitro. "With 24 milligrams/litre of ozone at pH 4 and a temperature of 20 C, we can get four levels of inactivation, which is more than 99.99 per cent, in about five seconds," says El-Din.

El-Din cautions that in actual slaughterhouse effluent, other components in wastewater could interact with ozone and must be removed by pre-treatment. Still, adding small-footprint ozone treatment systems to wastewater effluent pipes could offer an inexpensive solution to a costly problem. "Ozone has been used widely in the wastewater treatment, so we have experience in designing ozone systems and we can retrofit with minimal cost," El-Din says.

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Title Annotation:BIOCHEMISTRY
Author:Irving, Tyler
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:May 1, 2012
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