Monday, 27 March 2017

Breakthrough in 'amphibian plague': Deadly fungus genes identified

March 27, 2017 by Caroline Brogan

Scientists have identified the genes of a deadly fungus that is decimating salamander and newt populations in Northern Europe.

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), dubbed the 'amphibian plague', is a highly infectious chytrid fungus that affects many species of salamanders and newts, literally digesting their skin, which quickly leads to death. Since its discovery in 2013, very little has been found about how the fungus causes disease.

Now, researchers from Imperial College London, Ghent University, and the Broad Institute, have sequenced and identified the genes responsible for Bsal from an infected salamander. The authors say the findings, published last week in the journal Nature Communications, could ultimately help conservation efforts and provide drug targets in the future to help curb the disease.

Dr Rhys Farrer, co-author from Imperial's School of Public Health, said: "Until now, no one knew the exact mechanisms Bsal uses to cause disease. Our findings mean that policy makers and conservationists are now equipped with more knowledge on how best to curb this amphibian plague."

Dr Rhys Farrer and co-author Professor An Martel from Ghent University sequenced the genes from a salamander that had died from Bsal, and compared the genes with those of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a closely related deadly fungus that affects not just salamanders and newts, but all amphibians. Bd has caused more extinction events than any other infectious disease known to science.

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