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Systems Biology and Molecular Ecology of Chronic Wasting Disease


Generating solutions




2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition - Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges - Genomic Solutions

Genome Centre(s)



Project Leader(s)

Fiscal Year Project Launched


Project Description

Mad cow disease is a phrase many Canadians know – and most know that it affects humans with a slowly progressing, brain-destroying fatal disease. What they possibly don’t know is that a different prion disease, called chronic wasting disease (CWD), affects deer, elk, moose and caribou. 

Since 1967, CWD has spread from Colorado into 24 US states and Alberta and Saskatchewan (with Manitoba, B.C. and Northwest Territory at risk). CWD could infect and kill many of Canada’s two million cervids, affecting those who rely on them for food and culture as well as ecosystems and diversity and Canada’s reputation as a wildlife destination. The risk of transmission to humans and other mammals is unknown.

Drs. McKenzie and Wishart are leading a team that will use genomics and metabolomics to develop tools to test cervids and their environment, identify CWD strains, model risk and predict spread of the disease. The team is working with First Nations, hunters and managers to develop inclusive strategies to rapidly identify disease, allowing early detection and reducing disease spread.

Application of the team’s tools will reduce the level of CWD in wild cervids, the risk to native ecosystems and the potential risk to those who depend on cervids for food and income. It will also help retain the iconic status of cervids in Canada for future generations retain their iconic status in Canada for future generations.

The project’s GE3LS research component will identify management options under various property rights associated with wildlife, and determine the perception of CWD risk held by stakeholder groups and how these translate to preferred management strategies and willingness to participate in ongoing surveillance.