03/29/2002 12:00AM

Survey finds no new foal peril


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As researchers continue to monitor Kentucky's farmland for signs that mare reproductive loss syndrome might return, the University of Kentucky says that so far this spring it has found nothing dangerous in the environment at its test farms.

University of Kentucky scientists are monitoring 12 horse farms and one hay farm as part of an effort to learn more about - and prevent, if possible - outbreaks of the syndrome, which caused abortions in thousands of mares last spring. The syndrome's cause remains a mystery.

The team is analyzing grass and hay samples for fungal mycotoxins (poisons produced by fungi), alkaloids, cyanide, and mineral content. Testing on soil samples analyzes yeasts and molds.

In its first report of soil, pasture, and environmental testing, the UK team noted that, so far, they have found no abnormal or dangerous levels of fungal mycotoxins, alkaloids associated with tall fescue grass, and mineral content, among other potential factors under investigation.

Researchers reported that testing so far on 34 of 53 samples submitted for white clover-related cyanide revealed some with "slightly elevated cyanide contents, but with no adverse effects." Cyanide was initially thought to be related to the syndrome, but testing of the early cyanide theory, in which caterpillars helped move cyanide from cherry trees to pregnant mares, has not borne the theory out.

Horses in the sampled pastures have not experienced MRLS symptoms, such as abortion, according to the UK report.

Meanwhile, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington reports that, from Dec. 30, 2001, to March 23, 2002, it had received 369 equine abortions for examination. In the same time period for 2000-2001, the lab received 371 abortions. MRLS first began taking a heavy toll in late April of last year.