Prions are an enigma amongst infectious disease agents as they lack a genome yet confer specific pathologies thought to be dictated mainly, if not solely, by the conformation of the disease form of the prion protein (PrPSc
). Prion diseases affect humans and animals, the latter including the food-producing ruminant species cattle, sheep, goats and deer. Importantly, it has been shown that the disease agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is zoonotic, causing variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. Current diagnostic tests can distinguish different prion types and in food-producing animals these focus on the differentiation of BSE from the non-zoonotic agents. Whilst BSE cases are now rare, atypical forms of both scrapie and BSE have been reported, as well as two types of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids. Typing of animal prion isolates remains an important aspect of prion diagnosis and is now becoming more focused on identifying the range of prion types that are present in food-producing animals and also developing tests that can screen for emerging, novel prion diseases. Here, we review prion typing methodologies in light of current and emerging prion types in food-producing animals.
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