New observations made by the PA Deer Farmers Association may have made a breakthrough as they use genetics to find a way to combat CWD, or chronic wasting disease, in different species of deer. Chronic Wasting Disease, also known as zombie deer disease that only affects species of deer and elk. It is a neurological disease that is contagious and fatal and causes a decline in many deer populations. While there is not one direct cause specifically linked to CWD, researchers believe that the disease is caused by an abnormal prion. The prion, a cellular protein that affects the central nervous system, infects the deer. The disease causes abnormal behavior such as isolation from their population, blank expressions, and excessive drooling occur, and eventually this leads to death. Minimizing this disease allows deer populations to thrive as well as minimizes contact to humans.
In Pennsylvania, CWD has been a big problem for its deer population for about 10 years, and while it has been in the Midwest for decades, it has become detrimental, and may farmers and agriculturalists want to combat this problem. Researchers have taken initiative to look at the deer who test positive for CWD and investigate how they can combat this problem. Specifically, Texas A&M has worked on using genetics as a way to help deer with CWD. They have found that a genetic component has a role in passing down the disease.
Because a link has been found where deer can pass this disease down to their offspring, the PA Farmer's Association has worked to combat this issue. They have been able to look at herds where their deer have tested positive and test them to see what their genes reveal about their susceptibility to CWD. Using biopsies of the live deer, they are able to separate the deer with high susceptibility genes and breed the ones with lower risk in order to get rid of the CWD completely.
This is a great idea because deer and other related species are very common, especially in New Jersey. While there is not a lot of research related to CWD passing onto to humans, there are related diseases that mimic the same symptoms, and CWD can pass on to other species like birds. Deer are important for so many reasons, so it is important to take this seriously and use selective breeding and genetics to help get rid of the disease.