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Could Tribal Cannibalism Offer the Key to Treating Deadly Diseases?

Papua New Guinea’s Fore people ate human brains for centuries. Their DNA may now help treat conditions like Parkinson’s and Mad Cow?

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Back in the 1950s, colonial officials and European scientists working in the vast, underexplored interior highlands of Papua New Guinea noted the spread of a strange disease amongst the southern Fore people. Locals called it kuru, the shaking death, as it usually started off as uncontrollable tremors, progressing into dementia and mood swings, and finally over the course of six to 12 months developing into an always-lethal coma. At its height, from 1957 to 1968, kuru killed over 1,100 people, or up to two percent of the population per year, and seemed to hit women, children, and the elderly especially hard. At first, the disease perplexed observers and the Fore alike, leading people to attribute it to anything from a slow-moving virus to a psychosomatic illness to black magic. But eventually, even if the mechanics of the disease remained obscure, the cause revealed itself: Kuru was the result of cannibalizing human brains.

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Don’t Freak Out About Beef Trade With Mad Cow Countries

The horrifying disease has caused nations to halt beef imports over as little as a single reported case.

Illustration by Addison Eaton

To anyone who follows the business of red meat in America (beyond shoving it down their maw), 2015 got off to a controversial start, as the U.S. government announced that we’re going to start importing beef from Ireland again. This probably sounds like some minor, niche agricultural issue until you consider why we stopped eating Irish cows back in 1996: mad cow disease. After two decades of closure and paranoia that transformed global agricultural markets, by now opening our meat gates to the Emerald Isle, America is declaring that it’s once again ready to swap meat with the whole of Europe.

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The Scientific Roots of the Zombie Threat

Just for the fun of it, we take a look at what science has to say about how to induce a stupor and the effects of eating brains.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness, the federal agency that bills itself as "your online source for credible health information" released a guide to preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

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