MINNEAPOLIS — As deer hunting season reaches its peak, University of Minnesota students have traveled across the state to test the animals for a lethal disease.

The chronic wasting disease surveillance project is in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Daily reported . About 80 students participated in the project this month.

Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease and has been spreading in Minnesota's wild deer population since 2010, according to Larissa Minicucci, a veterinary professor who coordinated student recruitment for the project. There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease, which always results in death and can significantly damage the deer population in the long term.

Students collected tissue samples from deer as hunters brought the animals into testing stations in parking lots, gas stations and forestry offices around the state. Students also recorded information about where the deer was shot.

The DNR will use the information to track the disease's prevalence in the state and determine quarantine areas to help contain the disease, said Lou Cornicelli, the wildlife research and policy manager at the Minnesota DNR's division of fish and wildlife.

The project has also allowed students to learn how to communicate with multiple types of stakeholders, such as hunters, biologists and environmental agencies, Minicucci said.

"They're talking to hunters from various backgrounds, people from different ethnic groups (and) people with different philosophies on hunting," she said. "They're learning the communications skills that are really essential to being a professional in wildlife or veterinary medicine."