For the first time, researchers have documented chronic wasting disease prions in semen from white-tailed deer at U.S. deer farms, according to a recently-published paper.

While further work is needed to determine if the prion-containing semen could infect another animal, the finding could have major implications for the captive cervid industry, which relies heavily on shipments of semen for artificial insemination.

A variety of state and federal regulations seek to prevent spread of the disease by prohibiting transfers of CWD-positive live deer or carcasses.

However, no restriction is currently placed on movement of deer reproductive tissues or fluids. A single “straw” of semen from a choice buck can sell for more than $10,000.

“This would be a game-changer for deer farmers if (CWD-positive deer semen) is found capable of transmitting the disease,” said David Clausen, a retired Wisconsin veterinarian whose practice included large animal inseminations.

The study, published Dec. 30 in PLOS ONE, was conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston, the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite more than 50 years of research on CWD, the exact events involved in its transmission in captive and wild animals are still unclear, according to the authors.

Read more from Paul A. Smith with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.