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Professor Roger Morris
"Finding an antelope in the wild that has the disease is going to be a major challenge"
 real 28k

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"They developed a computer model"
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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
BSE origins 'linked to antelope'
Cow with BSE
Human form of BSE is thought to have killed 90
New research suggests that BSE, the disease linked to vCJD in humans, can be traced to a species of African antelope.

According to a theoretical study carried out by scientists in New Zealand, the disease did not come from scrapie-infected sheep or a genetic mutation, as is commonly thought.


The wildlife hypothesis best fits the data

Roger Morris, Massey University
Instead they say the most likely explanation is that the disease came from antelope imported into Britain in the 1970s.

The animals, which went to UK safari parks, suffered from a similar degenerative disease.

The New Zealand experts claim the remains of these animals must have been used at some point in feed, which was then given to cattle.

Professor Roger Morris of Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, said the evidence "very strongly favoured" the antelope theory.

Animal incinerator
More than 170,000 UK cattle have been diagnosed with BSE
He told the BBC: "I have some other hypotheses which are all wildlife origin theories and I have all the steps in the infection process...and I know that for African antelope every step in the sequence could have occurred."

The team used an advanced computer model to test possible theories to chart the spread of the disease.

"The wildlife hypothesis best fits the data," said Professor Morris.

Contaminated meat

BSE is the cattle equivalent of variant CJD (Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease) which is fatal in humans.

It is thought that vCJD can be contracted by eating meat contaminated with BSE, but the link has not been categorically proven.

According to latest figures, 90 people have died in the UK from definite or probable vCJD.

Another seven people are believed to be living with the disease.

Scandal

In the wake of the Phillips report into the handling of the BSE crisis, ministers pledged to do all in their power to prevent a repeat of the scandal.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown acknowledged that the inquiry into the outbreak had identified "serious shortcomings" in the handling of the affair by previous Conservative governments.

Lord Phillips' 16-volume report, published last October, criticised ministers and civil servants for failing to be open about the possibility of BSE spreading to humans.

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See also:

09 Feb 01 | UK
UK condemns BSE secrecy
13 Feb 01 | Business
BSE threat to EU farm programme
05 Jan 01 | Europe
Europe's growing concern
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