News

Amphibian killer forces immune-cell suicides

Fungal menace shuts down key parts of defenses of frogs and their kin

By
2:35pm, October 17, 2013

AT RISK  A poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) in Panama is just one of hundreds of amphibian species that succumbs to the chytrid skin fungus, which scientists now know has a special trick for disabling frog immune systems.

A skin fungus that has swept around the globe killing frogs and their relatives can make key players in amphibian immune systems kill themselves.

The fungus nicknamed Bd (for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis)has flummoxed biologists because the little skin bumps it causes in susceptible amphibians look inconsequential. Yet this member of the chytrid fungi can kill a wide range of animals, some within days.  

Part of Bd’s power comes from compounds in its cell walls that disable amphibian immune cells called lymphocytes and trigger these cells to self-destruct, says Louise Rollins-Smith of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. These fungal substances can withstand heat, acid and a protein-smashing enzyme, Rollins-Smith and her colleagues report in the Oct. 18 Science.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.

More from this issue of Science News

[title_1]