The current belief is that chronic wasting disease (CWD) and other fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are caused by a misfolded protein called a prion. However, there is no solid evidence to support this theory.
Our laboratory has found that a spiral-shaped bacterium called Spiroplasma is present in 100% of TSE samples. This bacterium has the same biological properties as the TSE transmissible agent. We believe that Spiroplasma is the cause of CWD and other TSEs.
We are developing a diagnostic test for CWD based on this bacterium. This test will be a valuable tool for early detection and prevention of CWD.
On December 16, 2020, wildlife officials in Grand Teton National Park received word of something they had been dreading, and for years respected disease experts said was inevitable: confirmation that an elk taken by a hunter in the park had tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.
State and federal wildlife managers had known it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, wapiti congregating in Jackson Hole would come down with CWD. The test result 26 months ago further corroborated fears that the always fatal disease afflicting members of the cervid (or deer family) had reached the geographic middle of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.