THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A killer fungus that nearly wiped out amphibian populations in various countries to extinction across the world has been detected for the first time in the country.
The presence of the deadly chytrid fungus has been detected by scientists from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, here, in collaboration with the University of Helsinki and the Imperial College, London.
The villain, bearing the name Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or bd for short, has now been identified in frogs in the Ponmudi region of the amphibian-rich Western Ghats.
“What we have detected is minimal, but it is very significant because this virus can threaten the already
declining amphibian population in our forests to total extinction,” said RGCB scientist Sanil George, who along with Juha Merilla of the University of Helsinki headed the study.
With permission from the state Forest Department, the scientists had taken swabs off the frog’s skin from various locations in Kudremukh, Agumbe, Aralam, Athirapalli, Periyar, Munnar, Vellarimala, Ponmudi and Peppara regions of the Western Ghats.
This was the first such screening reported from the Indian sub continent, which until now, was generally believed to be free of the deadly fungus.
While the initial infection is on the skin, causing lesions and shedding of top-layer, the fungus causes problems that are more than just skin-deep. The amphibians absorbs water and important salts through the skin and this transfer of salts is the first to get affected with the alteration of the skin surface.
Abnormal salt levels causes the amphibian heart to stop and finally death. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has called the amphibian chytridiomycosis the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and its propensity to drive them to
It is believed that the fungus originated in Africa and travelled all over the world piggy-back riding on the African clawed frog that were exported for various studies and clinical tests.
“While almost 40 percent of amphibians in the Western Ghats are already threatened, we need to put in more efforts to screen for emerging infectious diseases of amphibians. With the expansion of pet trade, even these African clawed frogs have started coming to our country,” said Sanil George.
Apart from Sanil George and Juha Merial, the other scientists who were part of the study team are Abhilash Nair, Olivia Daniel, Sujith V Gopalan, K Santhosh Kumar and Amber G F Teacher.
The results of the study, sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and the Finnish Academy of Sciences, and supported by the Kerala Forest Department and the National Biodiversity Authority of India, was published in the latest issue of Herpetological Review, an international journal published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR).