Relationship Between Skin Microbiomes and Disease Outcomes

scientists taking notes next to a frog on a scale

Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Species Survival (CSS) are working to save frogs from the deadly chytrid fungus by studying the microbiomes—natural communities of bacteria—on frogs’ skin that may have antifungal properties that help some frogs resist, or even survive, chytridiomycosis infection.

CSS scientist Brian Gratwicke and SCBI's Center for Conservation Genomics scientist Robert Fleischer are working with Smithsonian post-doctoral fellow Matthew Becker to determine if it is possible to predict which frogs will survive exposure to the amphibian chytrid fungus simply by analyzing a skin swab. They study the microbiome of the frogs, their immune response, genetics and skin chemistry to determine how some individuals survive an infection, whereas others die.

The team is also developing probiotics that could be applied to Panamanian golden frogs that might help this highly susceptible species resist a chytridiomycosis infection. Although so far it has not been possible to alter the skin microbiome of the golden frog, the team has found that some frogs with unique skin bacteria communities are able to resist a chytridiomycosis infection. Researchers are now investigating whether the microbiome can be used to predict how golden frogs respond to disease. If successful, this technique could help scientists identify those individuals most likely able to survive a reintroduction in Panama, where chytridiomycosis continues to persist in the native habitat. Learn more about the project by watching this Smithsonian Channel video

Partners and Collaborators


This work is supported by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, Shared Earth Foundation, the Anele Kolohe Foundation, the AZA Golden Frog Species Survival Program, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.


Becker et al. 2015. Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 282: 20142881. Becker et al. 2014. The effect of captivity on the cutaneous bacterial community of the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), Biological Conservation 176:199-206. Küng et al. 2014. Stability of microbiota facilitated by host immune regulation: Informing probiotic strategies to manage amphibian disease, Plos One 9:1-11. Becker et al. 2012. Towards a better understanding of the use of probiotics for preventing chytridiomycosis in Panamanian golden frogs. EcoHealth 8:501-506. doi:10.1007/s10393-012-0743-0

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