Scientists to rescue frogs
PANAMA. A swath of Panama appearing untouched by a fungus blamed for wiping out dozens of frogs and amphibian species, has been chosen ...
PANAMA. A swath of Panama appearing untouched by a fungus blamed for wiping out dozens of frogs and amphibian species, has been chosen as the site for the Smithsonian’s new project, set to develop ways to fight the devastating disease.
Zoos in Panama, Mexico and the Unites States are deploying researchers in Central America as part of a project announced Monday that will search for ways to build frogs’ resistance to the fungus.
The Smithsonian Institute is leading six other zoos and organizations in the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, which aims to raise $1.5 million to fight the fast-spreading chytrid fungus.
Their protection efforts will focus on a small slice of Panama that is the only area in Central America that appears to be untouched by the disease, said Dr. Karen Lips, a University of Maryland researcher to The Associated Press.
Lips said it's only a matter of time, though, before even that area is hit with the fungus — perhaps five years.
The speed at which the fungus has spread is "absolutely incredible," she said. "It's probably much worse than we even appreciate."
The team’s mission will be to capture as many species of frogs as they can - they hope for 20 to 40 - and create captive breeding populations in Panama with frogs that haven't been infected.
Researchers want to know if the natural bacteria from healthy frogs can be used to fight off the fungus.
The goal is to find a cure for chytrid and then release the frog species they rescued back into the wild.
Scientists say the chytrid fungus threatens to wipe out a vast number of the approximately 6,000 known amphibian species and is spreading quickly. Already, 122 amphibian species are believed to have gone extinct in the last 30 years, primarily because of the fungus, conservationists say.
"We're looking at losing half of all amphibians in our lifetime," Brian Gratwicke, the Smithsonian's lead scientist on the project, told AP.
The fungus has been found in 87 countries, including the United States.
Scientists involved in the project will work on implementing recently published research from James Madison University in Virginia that shows bacteria in frogs' skin can be used to fight the fungal infection.
Frogs bathed in a mixture containing the bacteria and then exposed to the fungus had a 100 percent survival rate in the study published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal. The survival rate was low for another set of frogs that didn't get the bath.
Applications for the research could include a spray to help build frogs' resistance to the fungus or a benign, fungus-fighting bacteria strong enough to pass from one frog to another.
"It's a very exciting discovery," Gratwicke said. "It's really the only thing we've got going."
Other groups involved in the project include Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado; Zoo New England in Mass; Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife; African Safari in Mexico; Houston Zoo; and Summit Municipal Park in Panama.