HomeMedia PreparationBovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-Free Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS)

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-Free Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS)

Safer serum for cell culture comes from countries and regions at low risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prion transmission

Although the agent that causes BSE (mad cow disease) and other transmissible encephalopathies is not completely understood, it is thought to be a prion, which is a protein or protein fragment of abnormal morphology and function. Bovine products including sera such as FBS should be sourced from countries known to be BSE-free.

What is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly referred to as "Mad Cow Disease," has been subject to heightened awareness by the global scientific community since about 1990. The nature of the agent that causes BSE is not fully understood, but the most common theory is that it is a transmissible protein of abnormal morphology called a "prion." Other forms of the disease are called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) and include scrapie in sheep, Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. BSE is believed to have arisen when cattle in the UK were fed scrapie-infected sheep products including meat and bone meal.

Why can’t animals be prescreened for BSE?

BSE is a fatal disease that causes the gradual degeneration of the tissues and functions of the central nervous system of cattle. Infected animals demonstrate clinical signs that include loss of coordination, reduced body weight and milk production, disorientation, and aggressive changes to temperament. Due to a protracted viral incubation period, it may take as long as eight years for these degenerative signs to manifest in infected animals. Although histopathological examination can confirm the presence of BSE in post-mortem brain and spinal tissue samples, clinical signs are the only indicators of the disease in live animals.

BSE-free fetal bovine serum (FBS) for safer cell culture

There are currently no approved laboratory tests available for screening live cattle for BSE infection. Therefore, the best available assurance that bovine-derived products do not contain BSE is to source them from minimal-risk countries with no known indigenous cases of BSE. Our FBS is sourced from minimal-risk geographies. Minimal-risk countries have:

  • Rigorous BSE surveillance testing schedules
  • Prohibited the import of live ruminants from any country considered to be at risk for BSE
  • Initiated limitations on feed for cattle and other ruminants
  • Made changes to slaughtering and processing practices to minimize transmission risk

For more information about this subject or our products and services, please contact our Technical Services department here.

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BSE Surveillance Information Center [Internet]. [Internet]. Washington, DC, USA: USDA.[updated 06 Jan 2020]. Available from:
Animal Health Status of Regions [Internet]. [Internet]. Washington, DC, USA: USDA/APHIS.[updated 06 Jan 2020]. Available from:
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