A group of Australian and international scientists have successfully deciphered the genetic code of the cane toad, with many hoping the breakthrough could aid in halting the invasive species advance across Australia.
The scientists from the Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics at UNSW went through a painfully complex process of sequencing around 360 billion DNA “letters” using cutting-edge technology to produce one of the most complete amphibian genomes to date. The full sequence was published late last year in the journal GigaScience.
The cane toad was introduced to Queensland in 1935 by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in an attempt to control two native species of beetle (the grey-backed cane beetle and the French’s beetle) that were compromising sugar cane crops. Whilst the toads ignored the cane beetles they were supposed to bring under control, they instead revealed a remarkable ability to adapt to not only live in this new environment but thrive.
The animals bred quickly as well as evolving to local conditions, today numbering in excess of 200 million and occupying over 1.2 million square kilometres of Australia. This has presented a significant challenge to native species, with the toads secreting a toxin that is fatally poisonous to predators such as the northern quoll, freshwater crocodiles and a number of native lizard and snake species.
Conservationists have been largely unsuccessful in preventing the spread of the species through either physical removal or other means. Scientists have looked into viruses that could be introduced to control populations in the past, but these are also infectious to native frogs.
The successful coding of the cane toad genome will provide insight into the toads’ evolution and its interactions with the wider ecosystem and it is hoped the information could accelerate research into possible biocontrol agents.
- The NSW Office of Environment & Heritage provides comprehensive information on how you can make your home a ‘Cane Toad Free Zone’ and help stop the spread of cane toads. Find out more here.
- Lock in the dates for National Tree Day 2019 and plant some native fauna! Schools Tree Day will be held on July 26th, 2019 and National Tree Day on July 28th, 2019.
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