The cover of Nature today highlights an article from Matthew Fisher and colleagues on the major impact that Fungi as emerging infectious diseases are playing on threatening diversity of ecosystems and agricultural productivity.
Fisher, M., Henk, D., Briggs, C., Brownstein, J., Madoff, L., McCraw, S., & Gurr, S. (2012). Emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health Nature, 484 (7393), 186-194 DOI: 10.1038/nature10947
Two papers out this week on the population dynamics and epidemiology of the chytrid pathogen of amphibians, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This is work from the Vredenburg and Briggs labs that includes several decade-long studies of frog declines and the prevalence of Bd.
In the Briggs et al paper, they describe a 5-year study on the fungal load in surviving populations of frogs in Sierra Nevada mountain lakes. They find that adult frogs that have low enough fungal load escape chytridiomycosis and can actually lose and regain infection. They propose that fungal load dynamics are the reason behind differential survival of various populations of mountain frogs. They conclude that:
“Importantly, model results suggest that host persistence versus extinction does not require differences in host susceptibility, pathogen virulence, or environmental conditions, and may be just epidemic and endemic population dynamics of the same host–pathogen system.”
So they propose that differences in the populations that are coming down with the disease is due only to “density-dependent host–pathogen dynamics” not that some populations are resistant. They go on to provide a detailed model of persistence if the host and pathogen, chance of reinfection, and survival of the host which is derived from the long-term study data. There are many more interesting findings and models proposed in the paper. It also further reinforces (for me) the need to know more about the molecular basis of the host-pathogen interactions and more about how the fungus persists without a host, lifestyle of how it overwinters, and the details of the microbe-host interactions, and the infection dynamic when zoospores disperse from infected frogs.
The Vrendenburg et al paper adresses the dynamics of population decline in the mountain yellow-legged frogs over a periods of 1-5 and 9-13 year study in 3 different study sites at different sampling intervals. The authors were able to catalog the species decline and conduct skin swabbing to assess Bd prevalence. They found that the fungus spread quickly as it could detected in virtually all the lakes over the course of a year starting with a 2004 survey. The dramatic declines of frog populations in these lakes followed in the years subsequent to the initial detection. This sadly predicts that most if not all of the mountain lakes will go extinct for the frogs as the current tadpoles develop into frogs in the next 3 years and then fall victim to Bd. Based on their sampling work, the authors were also able to correlate what fungal burden predicted a subsequent decline – in populations where more the ~10,000 zoospores were detected in a swab from frog skin, then the frog population was about to experience a sharp decline. The take-home from this work is that finding ways to keep the intensity of fungal infections down could provide a meaningful intervention that could prolong the viability of the population.
Briggs, C., Knapp, R., & Vredenburg, V. (2010). Enzootic and epizootic dynamics of the chytrid fungal pathogen of amphibians Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912886107
Vredenburg, V., Knapp, R., Tunstall, T., & Briggs, C. (2010). Dynamics of an emerging disease drive large-scale amphibian population extinctions Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914111107
A year ago researchers at James Madison University discovered that, Pedobacter cryoconitis, a bacteria first found on the skin of red backed salamanders, was found to prevent the growth of the chytrid B. dendrobatidis, which is currently decimating frog populations.
(Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog from wikipedia)
The newest research on the subject is being presented this year at ASM by Brianna Lam who worked with other biologists from both San Francisco State University and JMU.
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. (from Eureka alert)
The research above is really interesting and I am curious as to how the bacteria is actually killing the chytrid. The only other research I can think of where chytrids were being killed was a BBC news article that wrote about scientists bathing frogs in chloramphenicol.
In followup to the Aspergillus RIP paper discussion, Jo Anne posted in the comments that her paper published in FGB about RIP in another asexual species of fungi also found that evidence for the meiosis-specific process of Repeat Induced Point-mutations (RIP).
I’m including a recapping as many of the talks as I remember. There were 6 concurrent sessions each afternoon so you have to miss a lot of talks. The conference was bursting at the seams as it was- at least 140 people had to be turned away beyond the 750 who attended.
If there was any theme in the conference it was “Hey we are all using these genome sequences we’ve been talking about getting”. I only found the overview talks that solely describe the genome solely a little dry as compared to those more focused on particular questions. I guess my genome palate is becoming refined.