Researchers have discovered an enzyme that degrades the BSE prion — the protein particle believed to cause Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

Under test-tube conditions, the enzyme keratinase fully degraded the prion in the brain tissue of cows with BSE. Further research is under way to determine whether the degraded prions are non-infectious. The researchers also plan to test keratinase’s effectiveness in decontaminating equipment that processes animal byproducts.

The research is a collaborative effort between North Carolina State University, BioResource International, a biotechnology company located on the North Carolina State campus, and the Central Institute for Animal Disease Control in the Netherlands.