U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


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Wyckoff, A.C., K.L. Lockwood, C.Meyerett-Reid, B.A. Michel, H. Bender, K.C. VerCauteren, and M.D. Zabel. 2013. Estimating prion adsorption capacity of soil by bioassay of subtracted infectivity from complex solutions (BASICS). PloS ONE 8(3): e58630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058630.


U.S. government work.


Prions, the infectious agent of scrapie, chronic wasting disease and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, are misfolded proteins that are highly stable and resistant to degradation. Prions are known to associate with clay and other soil components, enhancing their persistence and surprisingly, transmissibility. Currently, few detection and quantification methods exist for prions in soil, hindering an understanding of prion persistence and infectivity in the environment. Variability in apparent infectious titers of prions when bound to soil has complicated attempts to quantify the binding capacity of soil for prion infectivity. Here, we quantify the prion adsorption capacity of whole, sandy loam soil (SLS) typically found in CWD endemic areas in Colorado; and purified montmorillonite clay (Mte), previously shown to bind prions, by BioAssay of Subtracted Infectivity in Complex Solutions (BASICS). We incubated prion positive 10% brain homogenate from terminally sick mice infected with the Rocky Mountain Lab strain of mouse-adapted prions (RML) with 10% SLS or Mte. After 24 hours samples were centrifuged five minutes at 200xg and soil-free supernatant was intracerebrally inoculated into prion susceptible indicator mice. We used the number of days post inoculation to clinical disease to calculate the infectious titer remaining in the supernatant, which we subtracted from the starting titer to determine the infectious prion binding capacity of SLS and Mte. BASICS indicated SLS bound and removed >=95% of infectivity. Mte bound and removed lethal doses (99.98%) of prions from inocula, effectively preventing disease in the mice. Our data reveal significant prion-binding capacity of soil and the utility of BASICS to estimate prion loads and investigate persistence and decomposition in the environment. Additionally, since Mte successfully rescued the mice from prion disease, Mte might be used for remediation and decontamination protocols.

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