A workshop at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has dramatically improved the ability of conservationists and regulatory agencies to monitor the spread of chytridiomycosisone of the deadliest frog diseases on Earth.
Caused by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, this disease is probably responsible for the extinction of nearly 100 frog species since the 1970s. During the past decade, the epidemic swept from the highlands of Costa Rica through western Panama. It is now moving toward eastern Panama from Colombia.
"The fungus spreads so rapidly because humans ship nearly 100 million amphibians around the world each year, mainly for food and pets, with virtually no disease testing," said Kerry Kriger, executive director of the U.S. non-profit, Save The Frogs! and course instructor with Sandra Victoria Flechas from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.
This hands-on course trained 22 scientists on the frontlines to use a genetic technique called quantitative polymerase chain reaction, PCR, which detects even single fungal spores.
"We've probably just doubled the number of people in the world who know how to use this method to detect the pathogen," said Kriger. "The beauty of PCR is that you don't have to kill the frog or take a skin sample to test for the disease."
Researchers run a cotton swab over a frog to pick up any fungal DNA, and use quantitative PCR to evaluate the sample. The technique was developed by Donna Boyle and colleagues in Australia in 2004 and modified by Kriger who made it more rapid, cost-effective and wrote a simplified protocol for scientists with no specialized training.
Workshop participants included personnel from the three institutions in Panama that have laboratory facilities for PCR: STRI, Panama's Ministry of Agriculture and another government research center. Students from the University of Panama and Florida State University, staff from the El Valle Amphi
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Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute