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Virginia Tech to Lead NSF-funded Amphibian Microbe Study

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A group of scientists led by Virginia Tech will use funding from the National Science Foundation to study the microbes living on the skin of frogs in Central America to learn more about the role of a fungus in a threatening disease called Chytridiomycosis.

The research team, which includes scientists at James Madison University, Villanova University, and the Smithsonian Institution, will use $2 million in funding to study DNA from microbes on the amphibians' skin to find out how some frogs survive Chytridiomycosis infections.

The researchers will swab the skin of frogs in Panama, where the spread of the chytrid fungus is well documented, and will study frogs in areas where the fungus does and does not occur. They then will conduct DNA analyses on the microbes to see how some of them may be inhibiting growth of the chytrid, and then assess what chemical metabolites are being produced by those microbes.

"We expect that in the presence of chytrid fungus, there will be strong selection for the bacteria to produce anti-chytrid fungus metabolites, regardless of what bacterial species are present on the skin," explained Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.

Virginia Tech scientists will synthesize the DNA sequences produced by the project and will develop new statistical methods to capture and analyze the information from the DNA and metabolite datasets.

"The bioinformatics and statistical analysis portions of the work are critical and provide the framework for advancing our knowledge in this system and also applying our findings to our systems," Belden said.

The project is one of 11 that has been funded under NSF's Dimensions of Biodiversity program.