Fungal menace shuts down key parts of defenses of frogs and their kin
Courtesy of L.A. Rollins-Smith
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.
Cells of many kinds carry built-in systems for do-it-yourself breakdown, known as apoptosis. Bd