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Chytrid Fungus: Researchers Finally Find Cure For Deadly Amphibian Disease

Nov 18, 2015 05:47 PM EST
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Researchers may have finally found a cure for a deadly fungus, chytrid, that is plaguing wild amphibians. In a recent study, scientists have documented the first-ever successful elimination of the fatal fungus, providing a major stepping stone toward protecting amphibian populations worldwide.

Chytridiomycosis is an emerging infectious disease of amphibians caused by an aquatic fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Over 700 amphibian species have been affected by this highly-infectious pathogen, which has led to widespread population declines and species extinctions throughout five continents, according to a news release.  

For the recent study, researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the National Museum of Natural History in Spain (MNCN-CSIC), and Imperial College London combined antifungal treatments with environmental disinfection. In doing so, they found they were able to clear the chytrid infection from populations of the Mallocran midwide toad (Alytes muletensis).

"This study represents a major breakthrough in the fight against this highly-destructive pathogen; for the first time we have managed to rid wild individuals of infection for a continued period," Dr. Trenton Garner, co-author of the study from the ZSL's Institute of Zoology, said in the release. "Amphibian-associated chytrid fungi are a critical conservation issue that requires simple, straightforward and transferrable solutions. Our study is a significant step towards providing these."

Chytrid fungi-related deaths were first recorded in amphibians at the end of the 20th century.  While researchers are still unsure why the fungus kills its host, previous studies revealed that the pathogen can be transmitted either through water, soil, or through parasites living directly on plants and insects. Additionally, the fungus reproduces asexually and has spores that move through the water. Therefore, researchers believe amphibians contract the disease when their skin comes in contact with water containing spores from other infected animals.

"This is the first time that chytrid has ever been successfully eliminated from a wild population -- a real positive which we can take forward into further research to tackle this deadly disease," Dr. Jaime Bosch, Senior Researcher at MNCN-CSIC, added. "Chytrid is a global issue which affects amphibian populations worldwide, and I am proud to be part of a team of leading institutions at the forefront of this pioneering research working towards a solution."

Their study was recently published in the journal Biology Letters.

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