It may be possible to eradicate scrapie in Iceland in the next ten years, RÚV reports. This hopeful news comes via a study led by sheep farmer Karólína Elísabetardóttir and a team of scrapie experts from four countries, who have isolated a genotype in the Icelandic sheep population that should protect the animals from the disease.
Scrapie, an incurable, degenerative disease that effects the nervous system of sheep and goats, has plagued the Icelandic sheep population for some time, not least in Skagafjörður, Northwest Iceland, where farmers were forced to slaughter over 2,000 animals last year when a scrapie outbreak was detected at several farms.
Samples were taken from 2,500 sheep in Iceland and Greenland. “First, we found one sheep and then we started systematically looking in its relatives and then we found other sheep, such that now we have a trail and based on that, the outlook is really good.” This is the first such study to be conducted in Iceland in 20 years.
Karólína’s team is comprised of two doctors from a German institute that studies prion diseases experts from England and Italy, and locally, two experts from the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre and a scrapie specialist from Keldur, the Institute for Experimental Pathology.
Now that the protective genotype has been identified, Karólína says the next step will be to find a ram who shares this and then organize breeding from there. “I’d even say that it might be possible, if farmers are diligent in their efforts, that this could work within ten years.” A scrapie-free Iceland, concluded Karólína, is “the dream.”