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Fungus devastating frog populations by altering genome

A deadly fungus has decimated certain populations of amphibians globally for the past few decades, but scientists remain unclear about the exact mechanisms that lead to its disease.

For example, while some species have become threatened or gone extinct, others appear unaffected, or the disease persists at reduced frequencies following an outbreak.

A new Cornell study, published in the July issue of the journal G3: Genes, Genomics, Genetics, teased out the mechanisms at play by examining which genes are turned on and off in the highly susceptible Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) following infection of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).

The researchers found significant changes in thousands of genes of frogs infected with a virulent strain, compared with uninfected (control) frogs and those that had been exposed to less virulent strains of the fungus and survived.

At the same time, the fungus also appeared to suppress immune genes related to pathogen-fighting T-cells in the spleens of infected frogs.

“T-cells are being suppressed by the fungus, and that could be a large part of why this fungus is devastating to certain species,” said Amy Ellison, the paper’s lead author, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Kelly Zamudio, the study’s senior author and the Goldwin Smith Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Read the full, original story: Genetics reveal effects of deadly frog fungus

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