May 23, 2011


Natural Born Prion Killers: Lichens Degrade "Mad Cow" Related Brain Pathogen

Remember mad cow disease? In the 1980s, cattle in the U.K. had begun contracting a fatal brain ailment triggered by an infectious protein called a prion. The pathogen could spread to humans who ate contaminated beef. Officials brought the bovine epidemic under control with major changes in agricultural practices.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a cousin of the sickness, one that targets deer, elk and moose in the U.S. Called chronic wasting disease (CWD), or "mad deer" disease, the ailment poses an unusual challenge in that it has spread among wild populations, not among herded animals. Wild animals go where they may, so you cannot institute controls the way you can for livestock. So it comes as good news that a naturally occurring disinfectant exists within common lichens and might actually be able to stop prions in the wild.

What has made prions difficult to control is their infamous durability. Boil water for a few minutes, and all the bacteria and viruses will be gone. Not so for the prion: it will be just fine, ready to infect. How does it fare in a dry heat of 600 degrees C? No problem there, either. How about ionizing radiation? Bring it on.

Scientific American -
19 May 2011
P Yam


Cited Journal Article
Johnson CJ, et al. 2011 Degradation of the Disease-Associated Prion Protein by a Serine Protease from Lichens. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19836. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019836.

Invasive Plant Killing Bald Eagles In Georgia [Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy]

AA University of Georgia professor said she knows what is killing bald eagles in the state. It's a plant that shouldn't be here.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials have found 11 dead eagles at Lake Thurmond since October. A few others were discovered at other lakes and reservoirs around the state. Tests show the eagles are contracting a rare disease called Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM.

"The eagles that are impaired with AVM have similar symptoms to someone who would be drunk," said UGA professor Dr. Susan Wilde. "Basically they're stumbling, they're having trouble flying." Wilde has studied the issue for years. She's been able to link AVM to a plant called hydrilla. Like another well-known invasive plant, it came to Georgia from Asia.

"This is kudzu on the water," Wilde said. "It can reproduce from just a little fragment of it."

19 May 2011
Location: McDonough, Georgia, USA - Map It


Mystery Surrounds Bird Death

Galahs dropping dead and falling from trees in Oxley Park remain a mystery but the possibility of poisoning seems unlikely following an autopsy by a veterinarian.

The vet from Central West Livestock Health and Pest Authority is investigating the deaths of a large number of birds that were found dead under trees throughout the park on Sunday morning. Some were also seen in the grounds of TAFE. The birds did not have any obvious injuries or wounds and were all lying in a spread wing position. Some of the birds will now be sent off to the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute at Menangle for further testing in case any exotic, notifiable disease is the culprit.

Senior LHPA ranger based in Dubbo Lisa Thomas said the bird deaths were a concern, with an autopsy carried out by the vet, who retrieved some of the birds that had been recovered from the scene on Sunday morning. The vet found no evidence of poisoning by mouse baits and no dye discolouration in the crops or stomachs of the birds.

Warren Advocate -
19 May 2011
Location: Oxley Park, New South Wales, Australia - Map It


Video Collection of a Wildlife Veterinarian at Work

Retired wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Jerry Haigh, who began his career in 1968, used video, initially Super8, the home-movie medium of its day, and later digital photography, to record some of his work.

He has edited some of this material and posted it to YouTube here, While some of the old Super8 footage became grainy after conversion to a digital format, it still tells the story of what it is like working as a wildlife veterinarian in the field.

The most recent video added to the collection is Moose Bulldogging: Research in Saskatchewan. It was filmed during a number of trips between 1975 and 1979, and shows a tranquilizing technique that Dr. Haigh and colleagues developed, which still can be applied today for anyone who wishes to lead a drugged moose into a clearing.

Photo credit: This Week in Wildlife