Chronic Wasting Disease research out of Midwestern University has shed new light on how farmed deer could be bred to be more resistant to the disease. The research, performed by Dr. Nicholas J. Haley, an assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Midwestern University, found genetic traits in a small minority of deer that impart higher levels of resistance to CWD. By expanding the prevalence of these traits through selective breeding, CWD resistance could grow among farmed deer, in the same way the sheep industry has successfully bred for scrapie resistant animals and has all but eliminated the disease in domestic sheep in North America over the last decade.
The research found that about 70 percent of deer have one or two copies of the 96G allele, which is considered the most susceptible to CWD. The 96S allele is less common (and more resistant to CWD than the 96G), with 20 percent of deer having one or two copies. The 116G, 95H, and 226K alleles are relatively rare and the most resistant to CWD—but less than 5-10 percent of deer have a single copy of any of these alleles.
It is very difficult to find deer with two copies of any of these three CWD-resistant alleles – but that would be the goal in order to breed for the most CWD-resistant herd. A number of farmers within the industry are now trying to flip these ratios by breeding towards 96S, 95H, and 226K animals and breeding away from the more susceptible 96G animals, in the hope that their herds will face a lower risk of infection.
“Deer farmers are an integral part of the fight to manage and reduce CWD,” said Laure Seale, spokesperson for Whitetails of Wisconsin and the American Cervid Alliance, a national organization representing deer and elk farms. “While CWD isn’t commonly found on deer farms, we want to eliminate and prevent it where we can.”
The results were first presented on Saturday at the spring meeting of Whitetails of Wisconsin at the Three Bears Resort in Warrens, Wisconsin. The United Deer Farmers of Michigan, Simpson’s Whitetails (MI), Keith Warren’s Deer & Wildlife Stories (TX), and Whitetails of Wisconsin’s foundation, the Wisconsin Cervid Farmer’s Foundation, are funding research with Dr. Haley’s laboratory at Midwestern University to help learn more about CWD resistance in deer and elk.