ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Inside the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, frozen deer tissue samples may very well help crack the Chronic Wasting Disease mystery.
The laboratory is at the heart of the newly created Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach, funded with a $2-million grant from Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
“We want to help hunters understand whether or not their harvest is safe to eat,” explains U of M researcher, Peter Larsen, Ph.D.
Among the goals of the center, Dr. Larsen and his staff are working towards development of an instant CWD field test. It will help give wildlife officials and hunters quicker results, so they don’t have to wait the five to seven days it now takes to determine if an animal is infected with the deadly brain disease.
But stopping CWD altogether will require keeping infected tissue from spreading the prions to other parts of the state.
Dr. Larsen says of the infectious proteins, “They’re almost indestructible. They are very, very difficult to remove from the environment. They can stay in the environment for years.”
Since the disease was first confirmed in wild deer in 2016 in southeastern Minnesota, a dead deer with CWD was confirmed in Crow Wing County in February 2019. That’s why hunters in the CWD containment zones are being required to submit nay harvested deer to mandatory testing.
There are also strict rules prohibiting transportation of deer carcasses outside of those control zones.
“It is illegal to bring a carcass out of the zone until a not detected test is received,” explains DNR wildlife manager, Bryan Lueth.
The DNR’s Lueth says containment of possibly infected carcasses is crucial to the state’s effort to stop or at least slow CWD’s spread.
So to help contain possibly infected deer carcasses, the DNR had hoped to work with area waste haulers to take carcasses put into six collection dumpsters in the Crow Wing containment zone and haul them to an approved landfill for incineration.
But at a legislative update this earlier in the week, state lawmakers were told that a waste hauler won’t be taking the tissue, fearing liability.
So the DNR is scrambling to work with other haulers who are more willing. Meantime, Crow Wing county’s landfill will accept the waste and incinerate it.
“We’re still working on getting dumpsters in place and we’ve got a couple of leads we’re following. We’re doing our best that we’ll have some other options available,” adds Lueth.
Because as researchers and regulators work to stop the deadly disease, there really is no other option.
For more information on Chronic Wasting Disease: