Weaponizing Prions

Prions seem to be the Ice-9 of biochemistry. Are forms that could affect humans easy/easyish to synthesize? Do I really want to know?

I think a problem is it’s very difficult to immunize people from prions. You don’t want to use a biological weapon unless you can be reasonably sure it won’t affect your own people.

Right now I suspect the answer is no.

Prions are proteins with some very special and peculiar properties. You need quite a few preconditions.

[li] The protein is important in our biology[/li][li] The protein exists in a number of forms - ie is folded in different ways.[/li][li] A non-functional folding of the protein is capable of inducing a functional folding to refold to match the non-functional one.[/li][li] We can work out how to fold the protein into the pathological version (ie the prion)[/li][/ol]

Currently we don’t have enough understanding of protein folding to even know how over half the proteins in our bodies are folded at all. It remains one of the grand challenge problems. If we don’t even have enough understanding about how a protein is folded, we are a very long way from being able to even begin to understand how to get to 2, 3 and 4.

Then you have problems in actually weaponising what is at best a very weird very long lead time poison. It seems to be hard enough to weaponise well know simple pathogens as it is.

Protein origami experts are needed?


Also, prion diseases are too slow to be useful weapons. Typically take months or years to develop.

Programmers, actually. Studying protein folding is one of the big things really massive computer clusters are used for; there’s even a project called Folding@home, which runs software on home computers to turn unused processor cycles (which are most cycles) to the task of studying how proteins fold.

Would be worst biologic weapon ever (unless you were an alien species).

Too slow to help on the battlefield.

(Probably) difficult to deliver and slow to propagate.

Difficult to contain or prevent (to protect your own population).
Prob not even very good for assassination. Much better device for conspiracy theories.

Plus, they’re most often spread via ingestion, not airborne.