Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Protecting the food chain from prions: shaping European priorities through basic and applied research (FOOD QUALITY AND SAFETY)

Project acronym: PRIORITY

Title of project: Protecting the food chain from prions: shaping European priorities through basic and applied research


Contract No: 222887

EU contribution: €5 999 499

Start date: September 2009

Duration: 60 months

Status: on-going

Twenty five years ago, the prion-caused Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) caused a devastating health and food crisis throughout Europe. Classical BSE is now under control as a result of the meat and bone meal ban. However, prions are still a threat. Tonsil analyses suggest that there may be an alarmingly high number of asymptomatic PrPSc positive cases. Transmission through blood transfusion is another significant concern, as are recent atypical cases of BSE.

Only a profound understanding of the molecular biology of prions (unprecedented infectious pathogens that cause a group of invariably fatal neurodegenerative diseases) will enable scientists to control them. But to understand why BSE-contaminated food causes vCJD, they must first understand how prions get into food, what happens when they are in the gut, how they reach the brain, and how they initiate the chain reaction rapidly leading to death. The PRIORITY consortium has formulated seven key questions:

  • How can we avoid a new BSE outbreak, as well as other prion infections in livestock?
  • Why did decontamination of meat and bone meal fail; is there an effective way to decontaminate feedstuffs, soil etc?
  • What is the risk of humans being infected with each of the different prion strains known thus far?
  • Which are the best strategies to implement feasible prion eradication programmes?
  • How can we develop a pre-clinical prion blood test?
  • How can we identify human cases with potential secondary transmission?
  • What is the origin of atypical human CJD cases?

PRIORITY will search for decisive data on the structure of PrPSc, the molecular basis of strains and species barriers, the mechanism of prion conversion, the cell biology of PrPSc, the function of PrPC, and the mechanisms of PrP-associated pathology.

This information will be translated into a more accurate estimation of current exposure risk to humans from TSE, as well as an evaluation of current intervention strategies. The team will also develop improved decontamination techniques and prion tests.

The findings will enable the consortium to respond to long-standing questions and advise the European Commission on TSE policy and the protection of European consumers.

Website of project:

Coordinator: Jesus R. Requena

Organisation: Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain,