Jan 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Bsal Genes Sequenced By Scientists Sheds Hope To Save Salamanders From Extinction

Mar 29, 2017 06:48 AM EDT

Scientists have sequenced the Bsal genes of a deadly fungus that are responsible for the deaths of salamander and newts in Northern Europe. The breakthrough will ultimately help conservation efforts and provide drugs to curb the disease in the future.

Researchers from the Imperial College London, Ghent University, and Broad Institute joined their efforts together to sequence the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) genes. The Bsal or so-called "amphibian plague" is accountable for the declining of the salamander and newts population as well as the increasing rate of their deaths. The fungus is said to be a highly infectious chytrid that affects many species of salamander and newts that literally digesting their skin that quickly leads to their death.

According to Amphibiaweb, the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is a fungal pathogen that causes chytridiomycosis in salamanders. A mass die-off of wild European fire salamanders has been observed in the Netherlands and eventually spreads through Belgium and Germany. Scientists are now decoding the sequence of the Bsal genes hoping to stop the spread of infection.

Bsal has aquatic zoospores that infect the skin of the animals. These zoospores cause lesions, anorexia, apathy, ataxia, and death. Bsal is first described in September 2013 and it is found to be like its relative the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that cause more extinction events than any other infectious disease known to science. It originated in Asia and arrived in Netherlands via the international pet trade. That is why Bsal genes are very much important for the researchers to further on the prevention of the infection.

In the article published by Phys.org, Dr. Rhys Farrer from the Imperial's School of Public Health and Professor An Martel from Ghent University have sequenced the genes of the Bsal from a dead salamander and compared it with Bd. They found out that, like Bd, Bsal also have various kinds of genes that can infect and cause a disease to amphibians. Even if both Bd and Bsal are closely related, they also have their own unique genes which researchers hoped that by comparing it, they can gain insights how Bsal genes work.

"Until now, no one knew the exact mechanisms Bsal uses to cause the disease. Our findings mean that the policy makers and conservationists are now equipped with more knowledge on how best to curb this amphibian plague through sequencing of the Bsal genes." Dr. Rhys Farrer said.

The researchers also found that Bsal appeared to suppress salamander's immune system, suggesting the way which the Bsal colonizes its host. The new fungal genes are also highly switched on during the infection process. However, according to them, more work is still needed to definitely identify the Bsal genes as harmful or not.

The research team is pleased to have finally found some clues about the Bsal which affects the increasing and steady deaths of salamanders and newts. Their next step is to again sequence the Bsal genes from more infected salamanders to gain a bigger and better picture about genes of the amphibian plague.

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