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Fields & Applications Environmental, Genomics & DNA Analysis

Swab Story

What? A global study to establish correlations between biotic (living components of an ecosystem) and abiotic (non-living, chemical) factors and the skin bacteria of amphibians (1).

Who? A culmination of several projects focusing on amphibian decline, the research involved scientists from places as diverse as Costa Rica, South Korea and Israel, and was led by Jordan Kueneman from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

Why? Discovering how environmental factors impact on species – especially in the face of predicted climate change – allows microbiologists to understand evolution and help prevent the spread of fatal diseases, say the authors.


How? The team took swab samples from 2,349 amphibians (from 205 species) and used DNA sequencing to identify bacteria in the skin. Various statistical and modeling approaches then allowed the researchers to assess correlation between skin bacteria and environment.

And? They found that the subjects had more diverse skin microbiomes in places with colder winters and more variable annual temperatures. The authors hypothesize that warmer climates enable more rapid growth of bacteria, driving down diversity.

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  1. JG Kueneman et al., “Community richness of amphibian skin bacteria correlates with bioclimate at the global scale”, Nat Ecol Evol, 3, 381–389 (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-019-0798-1

About the Author

Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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