Illinois scientists look at soil’s impact on CWD in deer
What happens to a patch of soil after a deer urinates on it is the latest question a group of Illinois scientists have about the spread of chronic wasting disease.
A research team from the University of Illinois says its findings could help explain the movement of CWD across the landscape.
“Our biggest goal is to support the management of this non-curable disease in an animal that is an economically important resource for the state of Illinois,” said Michelle Green, research assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I and co-author of the study.
Green explained that CWD is caused by a prion, “a sort of mutant protein with an unusual folding pattern that tricks the body’s own proteins into mutating, too. After enough proteins get in on the act, holes begin to form in the brain, causing physiological and behavioral changes.”
CWD is primarily passed from deer to deer through direct physical contact, but it can also be passed from mother to fetus or picked up indirectly when a deer comes in contact with the disease agent in the environment.
The new study focuses on the indirect pathway.
“When infected deer urinate, defecate, or salivate, they can shed prions. When a susceptible deer comes along and licks, ingests, or inhales infected soil, it could pick up a prion. But soil is complex. It’s not clear what soil characteristics are associated with the persistence of chronic wasting disease in deer,” said Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, veterinary epidemiologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey and study co-author.
In the study, the team looked at the relationship between soil characteristics and presence of deer with the disease in five northern Illinois counties where infected deer are prevalent. It focused on seven physical and chemical properties of soil that could affect the ability for
a prion to stick around in the environment.
Read more about the study in the March 23 issue of Illinois Outdoor News.