The New York Times reports this year will be the 50th anniversary of the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a mysterious disorder that quite literally causes deer and elk to rot away while still alive. It’s not a virus and not caused by bacteria, but a deformed protein called a prion is to blame for this nasty disease. And one scientist thinks he has a fiery remedy for the plague – burn it.

Dr. Zabel and his colleagues are apparently working on more details, but they’re developing plans to burn plots of National Park Service land in Arkansas and Colorado in hopes of sparing a few elk and deer an excruciating death.

Prions are basically anti-proteins – for lack of a better term – that when ingested, attack normal proteins and force them to become deformed as well. Eventually, prions wreak havoc on the animal’s nervous system, ultimately killing it.

For years, experts believed direct contact was the only way the disease spread from one animal to the next. But the most recent studies now show these prions can stick around in plants, and even soil may be coated with deformed proteins for years, even decades.

“We found [prions] in urine, in saliva and in feces,” Dr. Zabel said. “They shed continually until the [animal] dies.”

Now, Dr. Zabel sees only one solution to save the infected land, and that is to set controlled fires.

Without a doubt, Dr. Zabel’s plan has met some serious skepticism, but he apparently stands confident with his solution. Are you comfortable with a plan like this to see if CWD numbers diminish?

Image courtesy Flickr

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