Associate Professor Lee Skerratt has been awarded a 2019 Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship that will aid his biotechnology research into disease immunity. The research aims to save dwindling frog populations while proving the value of synthetic biology in restoring threatened wildlife populations.
The fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis invades and eats away at the skin of frogs and other amphibians, disrupting their ability to absorb nutrients and causing fatal heart attacks. This infection is known as chytridiomycosis.
Chytridiomycosis is responsible for dramatic population declines in 501 species of amphibians, including 90 extinctions, according to a 2019 Science publication by Associate Professor Skerratt, Australian National University researcher Dr Ben Scheele, and a global network of researchers, including Associate Professor Lee Berger, who discovered the disease.
“Chytridiomycosis is the major threat and many species will disappear unless we develop a targeted sustainable solution,” Associate Professor Skerratt said at the time.
The ASA previously covered the work of his One Health Research Group on the Corroboree frog here: https://www.amphibians.org/news/chytrid-fighting-genes-to-save-species-on-the-brink/.
Now, he will seek to develop that solution by applying advanced synthetic biology methods to identify and improve frogs’ immunity to the disease, thanks to an ARC Future Fellowship.
The Fellowship will fund his synthetic biology research in the Melbourne Veterinary School’s One Health Research Group for four years and will include training for four PhD and two Masters graduate researchers in synthetic biology, genomics, transgenics and wildlife health.