USDA funding takes COVID-19 transmission research beyond humans

USDA funding takes COVID-19 transmission research beyond humans

July 12, 2021

A team of Kansas State University researchers led by Jürgen Richt, DVM, PhD, and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is studying the susceptibility and transmission of the virus in white tail deer.

The “Investigation of Sars-Cov-2 Susceptibility in Ruminants and the Development of Diagnostic Tools” project, funded with a $350,000 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is exploring the risk that SARS-CoV-2 poses to deer, and ultimately to develop tools to protect the health and security of livestock and humans.

This project’s first stage was to determine whether deer cells can be infected by SARS-CoV-2 and if white tail deer can become infected and transmit SARS-CoV-2. This would reveal critical information for decision-makers in the quest to develop and implement proper mitigation and control measures.

Richt and his team examined SARS-CoV-2 infection of deer cells to characterize replication kinetics and determine genomic stability by next generation sequencing. They discovered that in white tail deer and mule deer primary lung cells are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The researchers then explored SARS-CoV-2 transmission in infected white tail deer. Results concluded that adult white tail deer are susceptible to the virus and can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to uninfected white tail deer. The final step of the project, currently underway, is to develop diagnostic tools to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in deer.

“As we learn more about the potential for SARS-CoV-2 to infect and spread among animals, we have to improve our diagnostic capabilities to diagnose this virus infection in different animal species,” Richt said. “Beyond that, white-tailed deer are a significant food, recreation and economic source, making our understanding of the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on them important.”

Richt also said, “This work will help to device control measures among white-tailed deer and other wildlife species or alternative livestock in general”.

Results from the research into white-tailed deer may improve the understanding of the extent to which funds from the USDA-NIFA can facilitate the discovery of solutions to challenges in the animal and public health industries.

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