Date Published: April 23, 2004
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Partial Text: For decades, scientists accepted that the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, packed with thousands of protein-coding genes, were the sole purveyors of genetic information; all inherited traits, from eye color to shoe size, must be stored and expressed through nucleic acid mechanisms. But prions are an exception. These misshapen proteins are capable of growing, replicating, and infecting other cells—that is, they are heritable. And all without a scrap of DNA. Most famous as the culprit behind bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, prions also occur naturally in some organisms and may play important roles in their growth and development.