07/02/2001 11:00PM

Boost for cherry tree theory

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As research into mare reproductive loss syndrome continues, the University of Kentucky is continuing to find a correlation between syndrome incidence and the presence of cherry trees and Eastern tent caterpillars nearby.

The university issued a release Monday evening detailing preliminary results that seem to support UK researchers' initial theory that the syndrome, which has caused at least 1,200 early fetal loss and later-term abortions since May, is related to caterpillar infestation and cherry trees. That theory, announced in late May, fingered caterpillars as a possible delivery device for cherry-produced cyanide compounds.

Caterpillars eat cherry trees and may have excreted the cyanide onto pasture grasses, which could then be consumed by grazing mares.

The UK release also noted that tests for hemlock poisons, considered a possible culprit by Clemson University researchers, have so far showed no presence of hemlock's toxic coniine alkaloids. Tests for nitrate and nitrite toxicity also have been negative, the release said.

In June, UK scientists conducted a survey of 133 central Kentucky farms representing more than 17,000 horses.