Probiotic bacteria protect endangered frogs from lethal skin disease

June 4, 2008

Laboratory tests and field studies conducted by James Madison University (JMU) researchers continue to show promise that probiotic bacteria can be used to help amphibian populations, including the endangered yellow-legged frog, fend off lethal skin diseases.

The latest research, funded by the National Science Foundation, will be presented June 4 by undergraduate biology major Brianna Lam at the 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston. Other coauthors of the presentation are Drs. Doug Woodhams and Reid Harris from James Madison University and Vance Vredenburg from San Francisco State University (SFSU).

A year ago, JMU research showed that Pedobacter cryoconitis, a natural bacterial species on the skin of red-backed salamanders, wards off the deadly chytridiomycosis fungus. In late 2004, Australian researchers cited chytridiomycosis as one of the main factors imperiling up to one third of the world’s amphibian populations.

Lam’s research indicates that adding pedobacter to the skin of mountain yellow-legged frogs would lessen the effects of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a lethal skin pathogen that is threatening remaining populations of the frogs in their native Sierra Nevada habitats.

Lam first conducted petri dish experiments that clearly showed the skin bacteria repelling the deadly fungus. She then tested pedobacter on live infected frogs, bathing some of them in a pedobacter solution. The frogs bathed in pedobacter solution lost less weight than those in a control group of infected frogs that were not inoculated.

In addition to the lab experiments, the JMU and SFSU researchers have studied the yellow-legged frogs in their natural habitats and discovered that some populations with the lethal skin disease survive while others go extinct. The populations that survived had significantly higher proportions of individuals with anti-Bd bacteria. The results strongly suggest that a threshold frequency of individuals need to have anti-Bd bacteria to allow a population to persist with Bd.

“Taken together, the studies suggest that increasing the proportion of individuals with anti-Bd skin bacteria in at risk populations can halt the epidemic spread of the lethal pathogen,” says Lam.

Source: American Society for Microbiology

Explore further: Fungus causes emerging snake disease found in Eastern US

Related Stories

Fungus causes emerging snake disease found in Eastern US

November 17, 2015

Researchers working for the U.S. Geological Survey have identified the fungal culprit behind an often deadly skin infection in snakes in the eastern U.S. Published this week in mBio, an online open-access journal of the American ...

A village of bacteria to help frogs fight disease

October 7, 2015

The naturally occurring bacteria on a frog's skin could be the most important tool for helping the animal fight off a deadly skin disease, according to an experiment conducted by Virginia Tech researchers.

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.