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"Amphibious Assault" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers collected samples of seven frog species from the Chiriquí highlands in Panama to find out what kind of skin bacteria they harbored. Studying the skin bacteria of Panamanian frogs may lead to the development of alternative drugs to treat the fungi causing aspergillosis in humans, which are becoming more drug-resistant, and to defy the chytridiomycosis epidemic, the major source of disease-related death among amphibians worldwide.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Skin treatment.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: tropical jungle, birds, frogs) The Chiriquí [chee-ree-KEE] Highlands, Panama. Site of a large-scale decimation of frogs by a nasty fungal disease and key to a discovery by an international team of scientists together with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center.

The team collected samples of seven different frog species from the region to determine what bacteria naturally live on their skin. Of the over 200 strains the researchers encountered, 29 had fungus-fighting chops. One in particular really stood out. When tested against the increasingly drug-resistant A. Fumigatus fungus -- often fatal to humans with compromised immune systems -- it showed the greatest potential for inhibiting fungal growth.

The team's next question: of all the chemical compounds this strain of bacteria produces, which was keeping the fungi at bay? The researchers separated out the one that proved most effective in the lab -- a battler against both A. Fumigatus and the main fungus killing the amphibians worldwide. It could lead to compounds to help stem the current Frogocalypse.

More research is needed to determine how to use these fungal fighters in real-world medical applications, but the work may, in the long hop, lead to alternative drugs that benefit humans and froggers -- for that fungus among us.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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