Students Help DNR Track a Deadly Deer Disease

Students collect samples from deer heads to send to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to test for chronic wasting disease.

This past hunting season, Concordia partnered with the Minnesota DNR to help monitor for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state’s deer population.  

Biology students had a unique opportunity to dissect lymph nodes from deer heads brought to collection sites during the hunting season. The lymph nodes are submitted to a DNR lab and are tested for the presence of prions (the infectious proteins that cause CWD). Students also collect a muscle sample, estimate the age the deer, and collect a tooth. 

CWD is a fatal neurological disease similar to Mad Cow disease. Biology professor Dr. Joseph Whittaker says infectious proteins can remain in the soil after a carcass decomposes and spread to other deer. It can also affect elk, moose, sika deer, and reindeer.

CWD remains relatively rare in Minnesota, but wildlife officials closely monitor cases as there are no treatments or vaccines. The topic, however, is becoming somewhat controversial. 

“Some people see this as government interference and are missing the potentially devastating impacts this could have on the Minnesota deer herd and hunting, both for recreation and as a major source of income for the state, as the disease spreads,” Whittaker said. 

Whittaker hopes to continue the partnership with the DNR in the future.

“This is great and a valuable experience for students,” he said. 

People can see the results of testing at

Additional information about CWD can be found at