Genotype That Protects Against Scrapie Discovered in Iceland

Vala Hafstað

After years of searching, a genotype, ARR, that protects against scrapie has been found in sheep in Iceland, mbl.is reports. The gene was discovered in a ram on the farm Þernunes in Reyðarfjörður, the East Fjords, as well as in five ewes.

A week ago, RÚV reported that another protective gene, T137, had been found in a total of four ewes in Iceland.

The hope is that the ARR gene will be discovered in sheep all over the country.

The discovery of the ARR genotype was revealed at a press conference, held this morning by the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Center, at Keldur, the University of Iceland Institute for Experimental Pathology.

The news marks a milestone for sheep farmers in Iceland, since whenever a case of scrapie comes up on a farm, it has a devastating effect, for all the sheep on the relevant farm must be slaughtered to prevent further spread of the desease.

The last time that occurred was in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, in September of last year — only a year after a previous outbreak in the same part of the country.

Scrapie is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that affects sheep. It is caused by a prion. The disease, which affects the sheep’s brain, does not appear to be transmissible to humans. It was carried to Iceland in 1878 with an English ram, transported from Denmark to Skagafjörður.

According to britannica.com, “Scrapie has a long incubation time, typically between about 18 months and five years following transmission. The first signs to arise are usually behavioral changes such as general apprehensiveness and nervousness. As the disease progresses, the animal loses weight and weakens, develops head and neck tremors, loses muscular coordination, and begins to rub or scrape its body against objects, wearing away its fleece or hair—hence the name ‘scrapie.’ The disease inevitably causes death within one to six months. No treatment or palliative measures are known.”

Today’s news offers hope that one day, scrapie could be eradicated in Iceland.

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