Faculty members have teamed up with the Institute of Zoology to investigate the effectiveness of probiotic bacteria in treating Chytrid (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) – a fungus that is devastating global frog populations.

Chytrid is a fungus that is thought to be the reason why over 200 different species of frog have gone extinct. This has resulted in 31% of all amphibian species becoming ‘threatened’ according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A Belize frog, courtesy of Dr R Antwis.

The team, led by former PhD student Dr Rachael Antwis, used bacteria taken from frogs in Belize to investigate the potential benefits of using probiotic bacteria in the treatment of Chytrid. Whilst previous studies have shown that certain bacteria that live on an amphibian’s skin have slowed down the progression of Chytrid, probiotics have not been used in long term field studies.

In assessing the efficacy of probiotics, the team used bacteria on a number of different strains of the disease. Chytrid mutates extremely quickly, so the bacteria must be able to treat different forms of the virus to be effective in the wild. Early results from this investigation suggest that a combination of different bacteria will increase the probability of halting the progression of Chytrid.

The paper resulting from this study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, will act as an important basis for future research into the use of bacteria to help fight Chytrid.

Dr Antwis concludes:

“A lot more work is definitely needed before we can identify an effective cure for this devastating disease. But as a scientist, I believe we not only have a moral obligation to keep searching, but an ecological one too. Amphibians inhabit the middle of food chain, making up a vital part of our ecosystem. If they go, then that could spell disaster for many more species.”

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