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Genetic analysis finds greater threat in frog-killing fungus

Berkeley -- A deadly fungus that has decimated populations of mountain yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada can likely be spread by sexual reproduction, seriously complicating efforts to save the frogs from extinction, according to a new genetic analysis led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The dramatic decline of the mountain yellow-legged frog over the past several decades has been attributed to the introduction of non-native predatory fish in some areas and to chytridiomycosis, a quickly spreading disease caused by this waterborne fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.

The study, to appear in next week's edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the frog-killing fungus may end up playing the bigger role in the frog's demise because of the pathogen's ability to spread over long distances and possibly persist in the environment as a consequence of sexual reproduction, according to the researchers.

"This group of fungi, when it reproduces sexually, can create spores that can last for a decade," said John Taylor, UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology and principal investigator of the study. "That could make this pathogen a harder problem to defeat. As a resistant spore, the fungus could be transported by animals, including humans or birds, or lay dormant in an infected area until a new host comes along."

Biologists are still determining exactly how this fungus, first identified in 1998, kills the amphibians it infects, but most believe that the pathogen disrupts the frogs' ability to absorb water through its skin.

In the western United States, the fungus has been spreading quickly, moving west to east across the Sierra Nevada at a pace of about a mile per year, according to the researchers. Tens of thousands of mountain yellow-legged frogs in hundreds of sites have virtually disappeared in the wake of the pathogen's emergence i
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
6-Aug-2007


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