The finding is also a useful weapon in the arsenal against human diseases, Kaufman said. The more known about a particular disease agent in animals, the better prepared scientists are to face it should it ever strike humans. When the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a lentivirus, appeared on the scene, lentiviruses were largely a mystery, Kaufman said. It took years to catch up on a basic understanding of how the disease worked as humans died. In contrast, health professionals were much better prepared for the emergence of mad cow disease, because similar disorders such as scrapie had been studied in sheep and goats.
"There aren't any contagious tumors in humans yet," Kaufman said. "But one never knows when one is going to arise, whether it's next year or 1,000 years from now."
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