deCODE genetics to Join Efforts to Eradicate Scrapie

Ólafur Magnússon og frú bændur á Sveinsstöðum Trú frá S

The biopharmaceutical company that helped Iceland process COVID tests throughout the pandemic is now set to join another important project: the battle to eradicate the fatal disease scrapie from the Icelandic sheep population. RÚV reports that this spring, deCODE genetics will begin analysing genetic material from sheep to determine whether they carry a genotype that protects against the degenerative disease. Scrapie was recently diagnosed at a farm in Northwest Iceland, in a region where it had never been detected before.

Scrapie is often described as the ovine equivalent of mad cow disease. If a sheep tests positive for scrapie, the entire herd is culled, the entire farm’s hay must be destroyed, and the farm and its implements must be sanitised, either chemically or through fire. Even despite these measures, the disease can remain dormant in the environment for decades. The disease takes both a financial and emotional toll on farmers.

Researchers have recently discovered two genotypes in the Icelandic breed of sheep that appear to protect the animals from scrapie: ARR and T137. Breeding programs with those sheep have begun in efforts to eradicate the disease from Iceland.

Read More: Good Breeding

Until now, Icelandic researchers have had to send genetic samples to Germany for analysis in order to determine whether sheep carry the protective genotypes. With the help of deCODE genetics, it would be possible to test the samples locally. Researchers hope to test the existing stock more broadly as well as, of course, the offspring of the sheep that have already been found to carry the genotypes to see whether they have been passed down.

“If this collaboration with deCODE genetics works out, then hopefully it will be possible to test these samples in Iceland,” stated Eyþór Einarsson of the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre. “And they also have a large capacity, and can handle the project, because the number of samples that will need to be analysed will multiply in the coming years as we get more rams in circulation that carry these genotypes.” Eyþór stated that there could be as many as 40,000 samples that need analysis by next year, and further research into the existing stock would also be necessary.

“This is really exciting and gives us hope and optimism for the future that there is a sort of definite response to this scrapie issue.”

Avian Flu Diagnosed, Risk of Poultry Infection “Considerable”

A case of the avian flu has been diagnosed in a mallard discovered in Garðabær. The risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable,” according to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The public is asked to notify MAST of any sightings of sick or dead birds.

The first case of avian flu

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) recently downgraded its preparedness level for avian flu, from level three to two, after there were no reported infections during the winter, RÚV reports; MAST had received significantly fewer reports from the public regarding sick or dead wild birds since last October, and the few samples that had been taken, did not yield any positive results.

Strict quarantine measures have, however, been in place to prevent the virus from being brought into the country by migratory birds. Poultry and other captive birds must, for example, be kept indoors or in covered enclosures.

Preparedness levels may need to be reconsidered, however, as a mallard discovered in a yard in Garðabær (in the capital region of Iceland) on March 31 was diagnosed with a severe case of avian flu. According to MAST, this is the first confirmed case of avian flu in Iceland this year, with the institution emphasising that the risk of infection from wild birds to poultry is now deemed “considerable.” It is, therefore, essential for all poultry owners to take “the utmost precautions.”

Numerous reports of sick and dead Kittiwakes

Over the weekend, MAST also received multiple reports of sick and dead geese, including one dead greylag goose in the western part of Seltjarnarnes, Reykjavík. Additionally, the institution also received reports of several sick and dead Kittiwakes (a common seabird in Iceland) in Keflavík, in the Reykjanes area. Since then, daily reports have been coming in about dead Kittiwakes in Bakkatjörn, Seltjarnarnes, and within a larger area on the western side of Reykjanes.

Samples were taken from both locations, but none of the samples yielded positive results for the avian flu. MAST states that it is unclear what is causing the sudden mass deaths. The case is currently under investigation and further samples will be taken. Meanwhile, MAST encourages the public to provide any information on the discovery of sick or dead birds and to report the presence of any other species in areas where there has been noticeable bird mortality.

Two Members of Pussy Riot to Receive Icelandic Citizenship

Maria Alyokhina and Lucy Shtein, members of the performance and activist group Pussy Riot, are among the 18 individuals that the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee has put forth as candidates to receive Icelandic citizenship, RÚV reports. The list also includes five Russian nationals.

A consensus to grant citizenship

Icelandic citizenship is granted in one of two ways. One, the standard process, whereby citizenship is granted through residence and application. Two, by parliamentary decree. The second route is, generally speaking, only available to individuals in extenuating circumstances, although critics, such as Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, have observed that these special applications constitute “too large a proportion of Icelandic naturalisations.”

This year, the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee has put forth a list of 18 individuals as candidates for Icelandic citizenship via parliamentary decree (these applications are invariably approved). Ninety-four applied, five of whom are from Russia.

Among the list of proposed candidates are Maria Alyokhina and Lucy Shtein, members of the performance art and activist group Pussy Riot. As noted by RÚV, Alyokhina made a narrow escape from Russia in May of last year, with rumours that Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson had aided her on the run (he was said to have received an unnamed European country to issue a travel document.) Iceland Review spoke to Maria Alyokhina last year.

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Lucy Shtein fled Moscow in March of last year after being under house arrest for over a year. “I realised that I could no longer stay in Russia,” Shtein noted in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian. She managed to escape to Lithuania by disguising herself as a courier.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, Chair of the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee, stated that a consensus existed among committee members to grant Icelandic citizenship to the two members of Pussy Riot. That decision can well be seen as a political statement, given that the group strongly protested the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “The Icelandic government has been willing to criticise Russia’s actions,” Bryndís remarked.