14 January 2000

Mineral imbalance may be behind BSE

By Isabel Davies

THE government may be considering funding new research into a theory that the BSE epidemic was caused by a mineral imbalance, sparked by organophosphate pesticides (OP) rather than contaminated feed.

Although farmer Mark Purdey from near Taunton in Somerset has spent years trying to get MAFF to investigate his theory so far the ministry has refused to fund any official research.

But junior farm minister Baroness Hayman is believed to be considering an investigation on his theory that BSE is triggered when high manganese co-exists with a copper deficiency.

The alternative theory is based on preliminary work, carried out by Mr Purdey, who has visited Colorado, Slovakia and Iceland – areas where there have been clusters of the disease.

Analysis of the soil and vegetative matter in the area showed metal manganese levels were two and a half times higher than would usually be expected while copper levels were unusually low.

Mr Purdey told farmers weekly he believed his work suggested BSE was caused by the mineral imbalance.

And his theory was supported by the findings of experiments carried out at Cambridge University which found that if prion protein was exposed to high levels of manganese the prion proteins changed shape.

He maintained the theory he has been pushing for years – that the OP Phosmet made cattle more susceptible to BSE – was still valid as it had been shown that Phosmet starves prion protein in the brain of its normal copper requirement.

Phosmet could recreate the low copper environment and if an animal consumed large quantities of manganese in its diet then it could develop spongiform disease, he argued.

According to Mr Purdey, further research is urgently needed to isolate metal atoms in the brain tissue of animals that had died of spongiform disease.

If it was found manganese or nickel were on the prion proteins then that would almost prove the theory was correct.

He added if his theory was right there would be the potential to design drugs that could cure or prevent disease. &#42