How cane toads control their own skin bacteria

Charles Darwin University evolutionary biologist, Professor Keith Christian, says cane toads have a degree of control over their own skin chemistry, enabling them to survive harsh environments.
Charles Darwin University evolutionary biologist, Professor Keith Christian, says cane toads have a degree of control over their own skin chemistry, enabling them to survive harsh environments.

A BACTERIA living on the skin of cane toads is helping the pest animal survive and adapt to Australia’s harsh environments.

A research team from Charles Darwin University sampled bacteria on the skins of about 100 toads in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, over a distance of 2500km.

Evolutionary biologist Professor Keith Christian said cane toads a degree of control over their own skin chemistry.

“The microbes apparently act like an external extension of the immune system, by protecting cane toads from skin diseases,” Prof Christian said.

“Our research shows there are differences in the community of microbes (called a microbiome) found on cane toads over a long distance, but there is a core group of bacteria that is present on all of the toads.

“The differences are, in part, related to different microbes living in the soil in different regions, but we also suspect that some of the bacteria closely associated with the toads have evolved as the toads have invaded new environments.”

Prof Christian said genetic technology allowed the CDU team to detect slight changes within a type of bacteria.

He said the cane toad research focused on gathering baseline information in the relatively new field of microbiome health and resilience, and hoped it could help inform native frog conservation in areas where, for example, a toxic fungus was killing frogs.

The project began after Professor Christian and his colleagues Professor Karen Gibb and Dr Mirjam Kaestli analysed bacteria on the skins of five native frog species and cane toads, and found each species had a unique community of bacteria living on its skin.

Professor Christian has researched the physiological and behavioural adaptations of various amphibians, reptiles, insects and micro-organisms in the NT since 1985.

This story Skin bacteria gives cane toads edge first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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