“I have kept at it, this research on chytridiomycosis in frogs, because we know that populations of six Australian species have been so reduced they will become extinct without a solution,” she said. “We have learnt so much about this disease, but still do not have a widely effective method for producing sustainable populations in the wild.”
Decades of mainly focusing on one disease has not dampened Lee’s enthusiasm for researching the subject. She says the constant challenges and diversity of her research motivate her to continue working towards a solution.
“The work is really interesting and challenging,” Lee says. “My research is actually very diverse. There are few labs working on this issue in Australia, so we have attempted to answer a broad range of questions.”
Unique challenges for a unique frog
The research has not been without its challenges.
Chytrid fungus is an unusual pathogen and the first from Phylum Chytridiomycota to cause disease in vertebrates. When it was discovered, scientists had to develop new methods for culturing, diagnosing and doing infection experiments.
“Initially, frogs were disappearing and no deaths were observed, making it impossible to work out the cause of declines,” Lee says. “Chief Ranger of Queensland Keith McDonald and Rick Speare started intensively monitoring an abundant population near Cooktown that they guessed would be hit next. Sure enough, they detected the decline and collected dead frogs that could be used for pathology.”
Back in the laboratory, Lee and her colleagues are focused on ensuring the survival of these magnificent creatures. Since the chytrid fungus is widespread and can’t be eradicated, they are focused on understanding immunity to the disease with the aim of selecting for resistant frogs.