Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD for short, is wreaking havoc on deer populations across the country. This year marks the 50 th anniversary of its discovery and even after that long there is still a lot scientist do not know about it, but some recent discoveries have led to a new approach.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Mark Zubel of Colorado State is leading a team of scientist want to try and kill it with fire. They plan on using controlled burns to scorch large swaths of ground in an attempt to kill the prions that cause the disease.
They have learned that direct contact may not be the only way the disease is spread. Mathematical models suggest that animals are getting sick from prions in the environment. In additional to the prions shed while a sick animal is alive, its cadaver can release another bounty of deformed proteins onto the ground.
Some studies suggest that these prions can end up on grass and other plants, which are then eaten by healthy animals. Some prions in the soil may bind to minerals. It’s possible that animals may sometimes pick them up if they eat bits of dirt.
Compared with viruses or bacteria, prions are impressively rugged. In a forest or on a prairie, a prion may be able to hang around for years, still able to infect a new animal. As herds migrate along the same route year after year, the supply of prions in the environment may keep increasing.
Dr. Zabel and his colleagues hope to test controlled burns. While the fires won’t be hot enough to destroy the prions, they might kill off enough prion-laden plants to lower the odds of healthy animals getting sick.
The researchers will test this hypothesis by seeing if the prevalence of chronic wasting disease drops after they set their fires.
They plan to burn plots of land in Arkansas and Colorado. If the experiments turn out as the researchers hope, they will spare some elk and deer a gruesome death.
Dr. Zabel said he has encountered some stiff skepticism about his plan. But he still thinks it is the only plausible way to put a brake on the prions.
“If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward,” he said. “I really don’t think it’s that crazy.”
For the complete story from the New York Times CLICK HERE