I recently wrote a report in American Scientist on Reid Harris (et al.)’s work studying probiotics that could be used to treat the devastating disease chytridiomycosis in amphibians. I deeply respect Harris’s work. Here’s why:
It cleverly weds two high-profile issues: (1) The worldwide decline in amphibians due to chytrid fungus pandemics and (2) the newly recognized potential of probiotics and microbiota in general. Chytrid fungus has gotten huge public attention because it is considered one of the leading threats (if not the leading threat) to worldwide vertebrate diversity. But reporting on chytrid alone easily turns into this sad, wallowing, and kind of typical humans-are-destroying-nature environmental story. That sob-story does not have as wide appeal as research that showcases this really novel and sci fi solution–using skin probiotics that naturally limit the disease. The Human Microbiome Project alone has gotten huge attention (and money), and so the public is primed to engage with this story. And it’s inspiring and exciting to think about what other major diseases might be studied in this way. So people, if they aren’t already, start rooting for science to save the day. And we need people to root for science.