U researchers raise money to investigate moose brainworm mystery

Moose rescue on Hungry Jack Lake
A moose rescued from Hungry Jack Lake after breaking through the ice on April 10, 2017.
Courtesy of Bob McCloughan File

A University of Minnesota professor is hoping to raise money to research the parasite that's devastating Minnesota's moose population.

The parasite is called brainworm, and it typically breeds harmlessly inside the brains of white-tailed deer. But when it passes to moose, it can be deadly.

"When moose get infected, it's almost like the parasite doesn't have its normal roadmap on where to go," said University of Minnesota assistant professor Tiffany Wolf. "Because of that, it often invades areas of the brain or spinal cord that actually causes severe disease in moose."

Snails or slugs can act as the transmission vehicle between deer and moose, but researchers don't know much about which types of these gastropods may be carrying the parasite to moose.

What Wolf wants to discover is what sort of snails and slugs moose are eating, and then look at how the parasite differs genetically when it's in deer or moose. She said they'll do that by genetically testing samples of deer and moose feces, much of which they've already collected.

The headline at the top of the fundraising page says "Battling Brainworm in Moose!" While researchers also plan to apply for research grants, Wolf said the $6,000 funding goal at the university's crowdfunding site is a good way for members of the public to help the research along. So far about half of the goal has been raised.

Click the audio player to hear the interview.

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