The Panamanian golden frog likes life in a bubble.
Inside a lab or a zoo, the strikingly handsome amphibian thrives nicely. But out in the wild, the frog sickens and dies. The culprit, a fungus named Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is the cause of many species extinctions.
The Bd fungus however has some enemies and is vulnerable to other bacteria on the skin. Some frogs can indeed clear the infection—much as humans do with various infections—or even survive with it. Survival seems to hinge on the microbial community present on the frog’s skin. These diverse microbes produce a range of metabolites which can defend against deadly pathogens, or not.
Unfortunately, the golden frog or Atelopus zeteki, a species presently remaining only in “captive assurance colonies”, cannot be reintroduced into the wild without better armor. Bd causes the deadly disease chytridiomycosis.
Could probiotic bacteria offer a defense?
Researchers Matthew H. Becker and colleagues asked that question and published their results March 2015 in a report titled Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus.
The authors isolated four bacteria which inhibit Bd growth in vitro and applied them to the frogs to see if they could prevent development of chytridiomycosis.
- No success in preventing Bd
- BUT: More frogs were able to clear the infection
According to the authors: “This was unexpected as A. zeteki is highly susceptible to Bd, as demonstrated by three independent studies [25, 45, 46]. In these prior infection studies, only one of 228 golden frogs infected with Bd was documented as having acquired and then cleared infection. In this study, approximately 30% of golden frogs either cleared infection (14%) or were predicted to clear infection (16%).”
Promising. Further work may come up with better answers for the golden frog.