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2020 Minnesota Futures to Advance Research on Chronic Wasting Disease

Deer standing in the woods

The Minnesota Futures Grant Program is offered annually by the Office of the Vice President for Research to promote research that incorporates new, cross-disciplinary ideas and develop projects to a point where they become competitive for outside funding. This year’s Minnesota Futures award supports a multidisciplinary team of researchers working to better understand the ecology and transmission of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a deadly, infectious disease that affects deer and other cervids (such as elk and moose).

The project, “The Emergence of Chronic Wasting Disease in Minnesota: Transmission across a Landscape of Plants, Soils, Water, and Deer,” will receive $249,000 over two years and involves researchers in UMN’s College of Biological Sciences (CBS), College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). The lead PI is Eric Seabloom from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior in CBS.

CWD is a prion disease, a protein-based neurological disease that can cause normal proteins in the brain to fold abnormally, which has the potential to cross species and is able to remain infectious in the environment for many years. Emerging evidence points to plants, soils, and water as potential reservoirs for CWD prions, fueling fears of contamination in agricultural products and water, as well as concerns for wildlife management, food production, and human health. While the disease has not jumped yet to humans, some experts fear it could.

Limited knowledge about CWD movement through the environment inhibits prediction of CWD transmission and risk in Minnesota. To address these challenges, this project pulls together experts on prion biology, disease ecology, veterinary epidemiology, deer behavior, plant and soil ecology, and hydrology. By generating novel experimental data, collecting field data at an outbreak site in southeastern Minnesota, and synthesizing models of spread at local and landscape scales, the research will fill a fundamental knowledge gap about the ecology and environmental transmission of CWD and will be an important step towards predicting and mitigating the spread of CWD and other prion diseases.


Since 2008, Minnesota Futures has supported research by faculty who go on to win substantial grants and whose innovations reach the market to potentially improve the lives of millions. In previous years, two awards of up to $250,000 have been awarded. This year, because deep budget cuts are possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OVPR has funded just one project for this grant cycle.

Erin Dennis

Erin Dennis

Erin is assistant communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research and senior editor of Inquiry.

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