PA deer farmers play prominent role in managing chronic wasting disease

HARRISBURG — A new study that examines the links between infection and genetic markers aims to help deer and elk farmers manage chronic wasting disease, also known as CWD, a fatal brain disease that poses a serious threat to the health of the animals and the livelihood of their farmers in Pennsylvania and across North America.

According to the article, which was published by Science Magazine, Nicholas Haley, a veterinarian at Midwestern University, is leading a project that focuses on using conventional and experimental tests for CWD.

The study provides a substantial body of samples that could help to create more sensitive tests than what now are available. Perhaps more importantly, this study allows insight into the genetic association between infection and disease resistance.

By allowing their herds to be tested and studied, deer and elk farmers are playing a prominent role in advancing scientific developments for potential long term solutions to manage CWD.

Pennsylvania deer farmers who previously have provided samples supporting a similar research effort have set a precedent as the first state to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture collect samples from live animals for research value prior to herd depopulation.

“Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in number of deer farms. As such, any impactful management solutions to CWD would be significant to the approximate 1,000 deer farming families across the commonwealth,” says Glenn Dice Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Deer Farmers Association and owner of Glenn Dice Farms.

Specifically, the study examines the links between infection and a number of genetic markers found in elk, known as microsatellites, using techniques commonly known as “DNA fingerprinting.”

In areas where CWD is common, deer and elk farmers have the very realistic ability to manage their animals by identifying desirable traits and selectively breeding for them. In this case, farmers can breed animals that are naturally intolerant to CWD.

The ability to build a “family tree” for farmers may prove useful in any number of other species as well. With the help of science, farmers now can do in their lifetime what would take Mother Nature thousands of years to do.