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Assignment 1 Article

What was the research project?
Researchers were interested to figure out how free living chitrid fungi infect their amphibian hosts, so they sequenced the genomes of both Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), in conjunction with the genomes of two other free-living, fungal pathogens to ascertain which genes allowed Bd and Bsal to infect and cause disease in amphibians.

Photo by Henk Wallays
Wenxian Knobby Newt (Tylototriton wenxianensis)

Were researchers testing a hypothesis or doing discovery science?
The researchers were doing discovery science, as they were trying to discover which genes allowed the infection and caused disease in amphibians.

What genomic technology was used in this project?
Genomic sequencing using paired-end reads and Sanger technology.

What is the take home message?
The take home message of this study is that, while Bd and Bsal are related, and both affect amphibians, each fungus has specific gene-family traits that cause each virus to have distinct infection strategies.  Furthermore, it is important to continue studying the genetic differences in chytrid funguses in order to understand how they are likely to affect amphibians in the future, so protections can be put into place that would preserve biodiversity.

Figure 1: Phylogenetic tree showing relationships between four different chytrid funguses (Farrer et al. 2017).

My evaluation of the project:
The discovery of Bsal, and its consequent effect on salamanders from the pet trade make it extremely important for scientists to know how the fungus spreads to and infects its host, so that precautions can be taken to protect the amphibian biodiversity in regions where the fungus has not yet spread.  The study is particularly valuable because not only did researchers compare fungus genomes, they also compared the effects of each fungus on salamander (T. wenxianensis) skin.  The news article reporting on this study is good in that it delivers the take away message clearly, and gives good insight into why this study was important.  However, I think the article could have done a better job accurately reporting how the data was gathered in this study.  Specifically, the news article makes no mention of the two other funguses that were analyzed, and gives some misleading information about the methods of the study, in particular stating that only one live salamander was used in the study, when there were nine salamanders used.

Literature Cited:
Brogan, C. "Breakthrough in 'amphibian plague': Deadly fungus genes identified." 27 March 2017. Web. 4 February 2018.

Farrer, R., Martel A., Verbrugghe, E., Abouelleil, A., Ducatelle, R., Longcore, J., James, T., Pasmans, F., Fisher, M. and Cuomo, C. "Genomic innovations linked to infection strategies across emerging  pathogenic chytrid fungi." Nature Communications. 8:14742 (2017).

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