Welcome to Prion Island

The uproar over Germany's first cases of mad cow disease claimed two high-ranking political victims this week, but it's paying dividends for some researchers. The government has announced it will open an Institute for New and Emerging Animal Infectious Diseases on the tiny Baltic Sea island of Riems.

Germany's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was reported in November. Since then, at least nine more infected cattle have been discovered. In response to public outcry, the government has shaken loose more funds for BSE-related research. Riems was a logical choice to host the new institute. It already houses three research institutes, the forerunner of which was founded in 1910 by pioneer German virologist Friedrich Loeffler, who was asked by Prussian officials to move his groundbreaking foot-and-mouth-disease research away from populated areas.

The new institute is expected to start operations this spring with 17 employees, including seven scientists, says molecular biologist Thomas Mettenleiter, who heads Germany's Federal Research Center for Animal Viral Diseases. The institute will allow his agency to "significantly expand" its research related to BSE, the prion disease that has infected more than 179,000 cows in the United Kingdom and hundreds of cattle on the European continent.

Meanwhile, politicians aren't faring as well as researchers. Health Minister Andrea Fischer and Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke--both of whom had been criticized for failing to heed earlier warnings related to the spread of BSE into Germany--announced their resignations on 9 January. Their replacements were named 10 January.