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Old 09-08-2008, 01:44 PM
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Default Increased Salt Levels Protect against Chytrid

I got this in an email from my herp prof:

Discovery That Amphibian Chytrid Fungus Killed By Small Increases In Salt Water Concentrations Given One Of 20 Given Eureka Awards In Australia.
Blue Mountains Gazette, 8/14/08

For Michelle Stockwell it was a surprising discovery. Frogs usually prefer pristine environments but she has found that living in a polluted and degraded habitat is the reason some Australian frogs have survived a fatal fungus infection that has decimated the amphibian world.

"It's ironic," says Stockwell, a PhD student who is one of six finalists in what may be the most popular science competition in the country - the People's Choice section of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

The winners of 20 Eureka Prizes and $200,000 in cash awards will be announced at a gala dinner on Tuesday night in Sydney, a rare chance for Australian scientists working hard to address some of the world's biggest problems to have their moment in the spotlight. Among the finalists for prizes this year are researchers developing new treatments for multiple sclerosis, faster computers, ways to defend the country better and solutions to a range of environmental problems.

In the People's Choice Award, the public gets to vote for its favourite project, and enter a competition in which a member of the public will have part of his or her DNA sequenced and framed.

For an understanding of why people devote their careers to science it is hard to go past these six finalists.

Stockwell admits there are long periods between coming up with an idea and showing it is right. But the Eureka moments make them worthwhile, she says. "It's an amazing feeling to know that you are on the right track and your work has the potential to make a difference."

The young University of Newcastle researcher studies the amphibian chytrid fungus that attacks the skin of adult frogs, and which has led to the decline or extinction of up to 200 frog species. Among them are Australia's green and golden bell frogs, which have disappeared from about 90 per cent of their habitat.

Stockwell was intrigued why isolated communities of this "charming, beautiful" species survived, including at Homebush Bay. By testing the water from ponds where they had vanished, and comparing it with ponds where they survived, she discovered that higher salt levels inhibited the growth of the fungus. "It is a polluted environment or a coastal environment with high salt levels that is protecting them," she says.

Her research, which she will present at the sixth World Congress of Herpetology in Brazil next week, raises the possibility of manipulating salt levels in ponds to reintroduce the frogs into their old habitats.
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