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Frog-Killing Fungus found to have origins on the Korean Peninsula



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An oriental fire-bellied toad that was imported from South Korea to Europe. Credit Frank Pasmans

In the 1970s and 1980s, frogs and other amphibians seemed to disappear overnight. By 1999, researchers had determined that the culprit was a deadly disease caused by chytrid fungi that infected the animals with tiny, swimming spores.

Today, this disease, called chytridiomycosis, is considered one of the deadliest pathogens on the planet. It infects hundreds of amphibian species and is said to have killed one third of all frog species. These animals make an important contribution to biodiversity, to controlling insects and diseases and can even be sources of new types of medicine.

For decades, scientists have been attempting to prevent these semi-aquatic animals from extinction, and try not to trace their origins to mysterious murderers. They knew it was a common ancestor but could not agree where or when. Now an international group of scientists has compared the genomes of 177 deadly fungus samples from six continents. They found that the pathogen most likely originated on the Korean Peninsula fifty to one hundred years ago and spread through world trade.

Their research, published Thursday in the journal Science, reiterates that the pathogen occurs in many different strains, some more virulent than others. It suggests that new variations of the fungus can still develop and spread disease without adequate protection.

Researchers collect a sample of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis with a smear from an amphibian. Credit Dirk Schmeller

Earlier reports on the rescue of frogs and other amphibians


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