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If You See a Cow, Hold Your Breath

If you thought that not eating beef was a sure-fire way of avoiding mad cow disease, think again. A new study — conducted by researchers in Switzerland and Germany, and published this week in PLoS Pathogens — shows that prions, the misshaped proteins that cause brain degenerating diseases like mad cow and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, can be spread through the air, reports New Scientist's Debora MacKenzie. The researchers exposed mice to aerosols containing as little as 2.5 percent brain tissue from mice with the animal prion disease scrapie. All it took was an exposure of 10 minutes for the healthy mice to become infected, the researchers report. "This doesn't mean animals or people with prion diseases actually transmit them through the air: there have been no unexplained cases of disease transmission which suggested this," MacKenzie says. "But workers in mills that process potentially infected carcasses may need more respiratory protection." Labs working with prions may also need to rethink their safety measures, she adds.

The Scan

White-Tailed Deer Harbor SARS-CoV-2 Variants No Longer Infecting Humans, Study Finds

A new study in PNAS has found that white-tailed deer could act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 variants no longer found among humans.

Study Points to Benefits of Local Consolidative Therapy, Targeted Treatments in Cancer Care

In JCO Precision Oncology, researchers report that local consolidative therapy combined with molecularly targeted treatments could improve survival for some lung cancer patients.

Genetic Variants That Lower LDL Cholesterol Linked to Reduced Heart Disease Risk

Rare variants in two genes that lower LDL cholesterol are also associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new JAMA Cardiology study.

Study Links Evolution of Longevity, Social Organization in Mammals

With the help of comparative phylogenetics and transcriptomics, researchers in Nature Communications see ties between lifespan and social organization in mammals.