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CWD Research Projects Funded by the DNR and MSU

CWD20-001: “CWD Extension Educator” Jordan Burroughs

In 2017, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission established the Chronic Wasting Disease Working Group to develop recommendations on steps and actions to mitigate or eliminate CWD in Michigan. A key recommendation of the group was the development of public education. To assist in connecting with new audiences and to amplify messaging around CWD, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension’s Community, Food and Environment Institute is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to hire a statewide MSU Extension educator to create, deliver and evaluate local and statewide communication strategies and innovative educational programs that meet current and projected outreach needs related to white-tailed deer management and CWD. This individual will work with partners and key audiences to identify communication strategies to increase awareness among diverse audiences about CWD, increase hunters’ confidence in the MDNR’s ability to make informed decisions and take necessary management actions, and increase key stakeholders’ acceptance associated with CWD management options and outcomes. Since chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first detected in Michigan in 2015, 119 deer have tested positive across nine Michigan counties.


CWD20-003: “Influence of Deer Harvest Regulations on Antlerless Harvest, Abundance, and Sex and Age Composition: Implications for Managing Deer in the Face of Chronic Wasting Disease” Stephen Beyer

States faced with managing populations of CWD-infected deer have limited information on how harvest regulations influence deer population and herd composition. Some studies have shown that localized intensive harvest can maintain low prevalence of CWD, while other research has established that different sexes and ages of free-ranging deer have different rates of disease. Understanding the influence of deer harvest regulations on herd dynamics could serve as critical information for agencies attempting to manage deer and disease. This study will examine how different hunting regulations designed to influence harvest of selected sex and age segments of a population influence deer abundance and herd composition. This information can be used in simulation models to assess the influence of different deer harvest scenarios on spread and prevalence of CWD. Taking advantage of a unique partnership between the MDNR and the Boone and Crockett Quantitative Wildlife Center at MSU, researchers will conduct a four-year camera study to evaluate differences in deer abundance and herd composition of populations under differing deer management scenarios.  Results will provide needed information to Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission for establishing deer harvest regulations in Michigan’s core CWD management zone, as well as inform researchers and managers nationwide.


CWD20-004: “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD): Field Animal-Side Testing and Improving Laboratory Diagnostic Sensitivity” Dr. Srinand Sreevatsan

The goal of this study is to provide improved hunter service in detection of the prion disease CWD and the exploration of novel strategies for early disease detection and disease surveillance. The plan is to develop a rapid, portable, field-friendly screening test based on lateral flow technology, which is used for in-home and bedside testing. Researchers will target non-prion biomarker proteins of neurologic disease and develop a platform to expand testing capabilities for CWD into the field. Specifically, the study will focus on the S100 and 14-3-3 proteins, which are released into the cerebrospinal fluid and blood during brain disease. The highly sensitive, advanced RT-QuIC (Realtime Quaking Induced Conversion) technology will be used to examine species-specific conformations of normal deer prion protein to seed amplification and detection of the CWD prion protein (PrPCWD). Specifically, the study will produce synthetic prion proteins using DNA of deer origin. Those proteins will seed the amplification reaction that is essential for RT-QuIC technology. The goal is to improve the seed proteins and optimize the amplification reaction. Researchers will compare the improved RT-QuIC process with the ELISA currently used at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL). The optimized RT-QuIC will enhance test sensitivity and test accuracy to improve estimation of disease prevalence. The benefits would be detection of deer in the early stages of disease, which would allow design of novel testing strategies. Enhanced test sensitivity may allow testing biological or environmental samples that cannot currently be done.


CWD20-005: “A standardized, high-throughput genetic resource to inform white-tailed deer population and disease management” Caitlin Ott-Conn

Genetic data provide important information for managing white-tailed deer and their diseases. However, techniques that are currently employed for this purpose — microsatellites and Sanger sequencing — have significant limitations. Most notably, these techniques are relatively slow, expensive and hard to standardize across laboratories. This study proposes to leverage recent technological advances to design a novel suite of efficient, cost-effective, collaborative genomic resources for white-tailed deer that will be commercially available to wildlife managers and researchers. This will include three-marker panels that can be used to provide unprecedented genetic resolution for population assignment of wild deer, distinguish captive and wild deer, screen prion protein (Prnp) gene variation for chronic wasting disease, and investigate the connection between relatedness, landscape dynamics and spread of diseases at roughly half the cost of current techniques.


CWD20-010: “Composting Deactivation of CWD Prions” Dr. Robert Michitsch

Hunting, slaughtering or ingestion of CWD-infected cervids (deer, elk and moose) is considered an exposure risk to prions that might lead to infection. Prions cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) diseases in animals and humans. The composting process has proven effective for the biodegradation of some recalcitrant organic contaminants, and the high number of microorganisms and high temperatures achieved during composting have prompted interest in this process for inactivating prions. Since thermophilic temperatures do not definitively cause pathogen reduction, multi-barrier approaches are employed to improve pathogen inactivation. As such, primary-phase duration, C-substrate, compost water content, (an)aerobic conditions, drying, storage, antagonistic microorganisms, geosynthetic materials, NH3 evolution, and other degradation methods (e.g. incineration) have been used to establish an unstable habitat for pathogen survival. Compost piles offer or complement these different approaches, which may prove useful to degrade infectious prions.


CWD20-012: “Multistate CWD Strategic Planning Initiative” Sonja A. Christensen

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that infects North American deer species. The same pathogen that causes CWD has been documented in other mammalian species, including cattle, sheep, humans and other members of the deer family. The continued spread of CWD is posing serious threats to wildlife populations and the funds available to manage and conserve wildlife. It has emerged as a major threat, reducing the health of white-tailed deer populations and causing long-term population declines. Further, the introduction of CWD into our free-ranging deer herd has threatened the sustainability of conservation programs and created concern over the potential implications to human health. This study will engage the CWD research community through a multistate strategic planning session hosted by Michigan State University in September 2019. By drawing on a multidisciplinary group of wildlife and disease experts, researchers hope to identify the greatest needs for CWD research, build strong collaborations for targeted research efforts, and develop unified messaging of new findings across regions and state agencies.


CWD20-014: “Employing collaboration and innovation to develop CWD education and outreach” Dr. Emily Pomeranz

After CWD was first detected in Michigan in 2015, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission established the Chronic Wasting Disease Working Group to develop recommendations on steps and actions to mitigate or eliminate CWD in Michigan. Ubiquitous to successful wildlife management is appropriately addressing the human dimensions of the management need. Engaging affected stakeholders while providing necessary education and outreach materials are essential strategies in addressing wildlife management issues. Therefore, one key recommendation proposed by Michigan’s CWD working group was the development of public education to address CWD. One strategy for ensuring that education and outreach is successful is to allow space for those impacted by the issue (stakeholders, experts, decision-makers) to co-develop, co-design and to some extent co-implement the education and outreach plan and deliverables. The National Charrette Institute (NCI) at MSU proposes a mini-charrette process to bring together the diverse range of stakeholders to co-develop an education and outreach plan that fosters buy-in and commitment from key stakeholders. An NCI charrette is a series of public and technical workshops and meetings that engage all affected parties in the development of a preferred plan of action. The process can be used for physical planning as well as projects like the CWD Education and Outreach Plan. Elements of this proposed process include an educational webinar on the charrette process, a project start-up meeting where stakeholders design the charrette, focus groups with a wide range of existing and new stakeholders and, finally, the three-day charrette with the outcome of a stakeholder-informed, action-oriented CWD education and outreach plan that excites stakeholders.


CWD20-0018: “Mechanistic understanding on environmental behavior, bioavailability and persistence in chronic wasting disease prions” Wei Zhang

Chronic wasting disease is an emerging prion disease that is expanding geographically where the incidence of CWD can approach 50 percent of free-ranging deer and over 90 percent of captive deer herds in certain endemic areas. Environmental factors can be important in the persistence of misfolded infectious prion protein (PrPSc) and transmission of prion diseases. This project uses a combination of innovative biological, chemical and engineering approaches to study the persistence, bioavailability, and infectivity of prions by measuring PrPSc sorption to soils of contrasting properties, PrPSc degradation, PrPSc conversion activity, and bioavailable metal and prion concentrations (using proposed novel sensors), as influenced by metal concentrations (Mn2+ and Cu2+) in biological matrices and soil waters. The new sensors will be capable of measuring bioavailable metal and prion concentrations simultaneously in situ, which will allow for elucidating the role of Mn2+ on PrPSc sorption to soils, its persistence, bioavailability and infectivity. This project is aligned with the stakeholder priorities in prion biology and behavior, rapid testing methods, and innovative environmental approaches. Its finding will be foundational to competing for external grants and allow for design future large-scale projects to delineate risk zones based on environmental factors.


CWD20-020: “The next frontier of CWD models in Michigan: an agent based approach for surveillance and management assessment” William F. Porter

Chronic wasting disease in deer is a particularly difficult disease system to manage and surveil because many of the underlying ecological and disease processes are unknown. Deer inhabit diverse landscapes and exhibit a wide variety of behaviors. Much uncertainty surrounds the understanding of fundamental aspects of CWD transmission. Given the limitation of resources to invest broadly in comprehensive field-based efforts to understand the dynamics of CWD among deer, alternative approaches are necessary to inform management and surveillance decisions. Agent-based models (ABMs) are particularly well suited to address the uncertainties inherent to CWD. ABMs explicitly account for variability in individual deer behavior, specific environmental or landscape contexts, and variability in time since infection. Conceptually, ABMs allow us to quantify what will happen given our hypotheses of how the system works. The strength of ABMs to evaluate CWD surveillance and management strategies is especially relevant in Michigan where limited resources, diverse stakeholders promoting novel and controversial management approaches, and regions of the state that are experiencing different transmission processes (emergent versus established) create a complex suite of uncertainty to be evaluated. The goal of this study is to use ABMs to develop efficient CWD surveillance and management strategies for Michigan and establish a framework for transferring this approach to other states. To accomplish that goal, we have three objectives: 1) adapt and update existing agent-based CWD models for Michigan, 2) provide model-derived recommendations for designing locale-specific CWD surveillance strategies, and 3) use model-derived insights to develop defensible CWD management strategies.


CWD20-017: “Optimizing CWD Surveillance: Regional Synthesis of Demographic, Spatial, and Transmission-Risk Factors” Dr. Krysten Schuler

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease of cervids (deer, elk and moose) with significant ecological and economic impacts. State wildlife agencies spend millions of dollars each year to test deer and elk for CWD. Therefore, maximizing sampling efficiency and improving its effectiveness are critical. Several modeling efforts have already examined risk factors including sex, age, sample source, genetics, geophysical features, captive cervids, hunter-harvested carcasses, and disposal methods to “sample smarter” and increase detection power. However, a rigorous integration of these various models has not happened. This study will evaluate strengths and weaknesses of available analytical tools and determine which can be synthesized to derive a more powerful sampling strategy. The products of this synthesis will be a tool that integrates local harvest and disease prevalence data with data science, mathematical and statistical modeling techniques. This toolset will allow wildlife managers to more fully explore and optimize disease surveillance efforts. By identifying risk factors for CWD, states can tailor sampling protocols to maximize efficiency and confidence in disease prevalence. The strength of this project is to form a regional collaboration that will allow for standardization, comparison and integration of CWD surveillance streams. All states involved will benefit from improved surveillance effectiveness, minimized cost of sampling and maximize the probability of discovering new infections. Although the model and resulting tool will prioritize Michigan and CWD, this novel approach to disease surveillance optimization will be transferrable to other states and will enhance infrastructure to address management challenges of other wildlife disease issues.


CWD20-026: “Inactivation of CWD prions by peroxymonosulfate and hypochlorous acid” Joel A. Pedersen

Prions can become associated with a solid surface when they are shed by CWD-infected animals in captive facilities, during meat and sample processing in commercial facilities and in laboratories. Prions associated with solid surfaces have been shown to transmit disease. Prions are notoriously difficult to inactivate, exhibiting remarkable resistance to most methods of inactivation that are effective against conventional pathogens. The proposed research would test the efficacy of two promising decontamination agents in inactivating CWD prions on different materials that may come in contact with infected animals or tissues in commercial or laboratory settings, including metals (e.g., stainless steel, tin, aluminum), plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene), nylon and glass. Both decontamination agents have been previously shown to rapidly inactivate prions in solution. The study will determine the conditions that maximize the efficacy of these decontaminants in inactivating surface-bound prions. The ultimate goal of the project is to use these agents to decontaminate surfaces in meat processing, animal housing facilities and laboratories after exposure.