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A team to study the ability of frogs to resist disease and its application to humans and other living systems

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Can frogs’ ability to survive certain infections help better understand how to help humans do the same? New National Science Foundation-funded research partnership will examine the resilience demonstrated by amphibians and other groups of species to the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, as well as other human-caused changes to the global ecosystem.

The team from 10 universities across the country will study what allowed amphibians to rebound from epidemics, using this group of species as a model to understand how resilience occurs in other living systems.

“We are unfortunately saturated with bad news about the state of the natural world,” said Jamie Voyles, institute co-director, head of research in Panama and biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno. to be clear, there is no doubt that we are currently facing incredible challenges regarding threats to plants, wildlife and even entire ecosystems. At the same time, we know that some systems are resilient despite the many diverse and deadly threats. “

Resilience Institute Bridging Biological Training and Research, a new center based at the University of Pittsburgh with collaborator study sites around the world, is funded by a five-year, $ 12.5 million grant from the University of Pittsburgh. National Science Foundation to consolidate the research of a number of institutions.

“The creation of this institute is so important because we really need to understand ecological resilience – how it works, when it occurs, why some systems are resilient while others are not – as an emerging property of systems. alive in today’s changing world, ”Voyles said. .

Scientists have been conducting a series of research and publishing articles for years, most recently one was published in a Royal Society journal in June titled “Divergent Regional Evolutionary Stories of a Devastating Global Amphibian Pathogen”.

Working together for 10 years

“We have been conducting collaborative research for 10 years, but this is our first opportunity to bring together such a power of researchers under the aegis of an institute,” said Voyles, associate professor in the department of biology at the Collège des sciences de la The University of Nevada, Reno, said.

A recent scientific paper, which she co-authored, detailed how amphibians are being devastated to extinction around the world, with up to 90 species now extinct and 500 species experiencing dramatic population declines.

“As the disease causes the amphibian species to decline, we have also found that some species are latching on and we are investigating why this may have happened,” Voyles said.

The institute is part of NSF’s strategy to create large research teams across disciplines and regions to study the principles of “rules of life” – fundamental life processes spanning biomes to Earth. This initiative aims to focus on resilience as such a ‘rule’, applying what they have learned about amphibian recovery from a newly emerged fungus to understand how other living systems can rebound in the face of stressors. stresses associated with global change. The study subjects will be amphibians from sites in Brazil, Panama, the Sierra Nevada of California and the Pymatuning Lab of Ecology in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“Because we have a lot of data over time from around the world on amphibians that are doing better now than they were after the initial outbreaks, they are great for studying resilience,” Corinne Richards-Zawacki, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Pittsburg and the project’s principal investigator, said. “We can ask ourselves many questions: what mechanisms make them capable of living with their pathogens? Are pathogens changing? What is the impact of the different environments? If we understand how the relationship has changed between the species and the threat, we can consider how resilience can be applied to other biological systems.

Awareness activities

The Institute’s outreach activities will reach students, teachers, members of the public and wildlife managers with messages on biodiversity, resilience and global change. Together, the Institute’s activities will showcase the power of an integrative team science approach to address some of the most important and challenging questions in biology.

In addition to research that spans many disciplines in biology, the team is tasked with developing programs and programs that will train the next generation of biologists to also be “integrative” in their approach to their science. As a member of the executive committee, Voyles will administer and conduct all research and training activities. She is also a Field Officer for Panama, which is one of her long-term areas of study.

Other principal investigators participating in the Resilience Institute are: Gui Becker, University of Alabama; Erica Bree Rosenblum, University of California, Berkeley; Cherie Briggs, Roland Knapp and Thomas Smith, University of California, Santa Barbara; Doug Woodhams, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Michel Ohmer, University of Mississippi; Jamie Voyles, University of Nevada, Reno; Emily Le Sage, Temple University (and until recently Vanderbilt); Mark Wilber, University of Tennessee; Lisa Limeri, Texas Tech University; and Louise Rollins-Smith, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


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