It’s been called “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates.” The devastating effect of the chytrid fungus on frog populations around the world has contributed to the extinction of at least 200 species and no one knows where it came from. But now scientists are hoping to tweak the amphibian’s evolutionary development by bulking up their bods with small doses of the very thing that’s killing them.
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been wreaking havoc on frogs for 20 years now. The amphibian skin fungus causes the disease chytridiomycosis. When a frog is infected, its skin ceases to function properly. Because frogs breathe underwater and absorb key nutrients through their skin, a chytridiomycosis diagnosis is most certainly terminal.
Jessie Bushell, director of conservation at the San Francisco Zoo, is part of a search-and-rescue mission that is focused on saving the mountain yellow-legged frog by immunizing it against the chytrid fungus. This particular species has seen more that 90 percent of its population disappear as the fungus spreads across the Sierra Nevada. She explained to NPR just how quick and vicious this problem is, “when it hits, it’s within weeks that they’re just gone, just literally gone.”