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article imageFrog skin offers disease clues

By Tim Sandle     May 13, 2014 in Science
A simple sample of the protective mucus layer that coats a frog's skin can now be analyzed to determine how susceptible the frog is to disease, according to new research.
The basis of the study is microbes. The mucus that coats amphibians hosts a community of microbes and also contains biochemical defenses secreted by the animal itself. The interplay between these microbes and the biochemical defenses determine how susceptible the amphibian is to a particular disease.
To test the theory, the researchers studied midwife toads, which live in Europe and are highly susceptible to the chytrid fungus. All chytrids are aquatic and they pose a risk to amphibians. Chytrids have been isolated from a variety of aquatic habitats, including peats, bogs, rivers, ponds, springs, and ditches, and terrestrial habitats, such as acidic soils, alkaline soils, temperate forest soils, rainforest soils, arctic and Antarctic soils.
The chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is responsible for chytridiomycosis, a disease of amphibians. Discovered in 1998 in Australia and Panama this disease is known to kill amphibians in large numbers, and has been suggested as a principal cause for the worldwide amphibian decline. In one example an outbreak of the fungus was found responsible for killing much of the Kihansi Spray Toad population in its native habitat of Tanzania
The scientists collected samples from the frogs' skins and then incubated spores from the chytrid fungus in the mucus. The ability of the mucus samples to kill the fungal disease was related to how prevalent the infections were among the frog population in the field as well as the survival rate of frogs raised in the laboratory that were exposed to the disease.
From this patterns were analysed and successful predictions made. The research could help scientists successfully reintroduce endangered amphibians into the wild by reducing the chance that the amphibians will be killed by diseases.
The research was developed at the University of Colorado Boulder. The findings have been reported to the journal PLOS ONE, in a paper titled “Interacting Symbionts and Immunity in the Amphibian Skin Mucosome Predict Disease Risk and Probiotic Effectiveness”.
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