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To Control the Spread

An Australian-led team of researchers has generated a draft genome assembly of the cane toad, Rhinella marina, an invasive species there, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Cane toads, native to Central and South America, were introduced to Queensland in 1935 to control cane beetles, but have killed northern quolls, freshwater crocodiles, and native lizards and snakes, the Herald adds.

The University of New South Wales' Peter White and his colleagues used a combination of long-read Pacific Biosciences RS II and short-read Illumina HiSeq X sequencing to generate an assembly 2.55 gigabases in length, as they reported recently in Gigascience. They further predict it to have 25,846 protein-coding genes.

White tells ABC News the cane toad genome could give insight into how a rainforest-dwelling toad was able to spread across a dry continent. Co-author Rick Shine from the University of Sydney adds that the toads in Queensland are fairly sedate, while those living farther west are more mobile and also have longer legs and bigger heads. White and his team are now collecting samples from different cane toad populations from around the world for comparison, ABC News adds.

"Future analysis of the genome will provide insights into cane toad evolution and enrich our understanding of their interplay with the ecosystem at large," Shine tells the Herald. "It will help us understand how the toad spreads, how its toxin works, and provide new avenues to try to control its population."