Help detect two globally emerging fungi and reverse the threat of global amphibian declines and extinction
The global wildlife trade is actively spreading a deadly disease that could cause hundreds, if not thousands, of the world’s 7,000 known species of amphibians to go extinct unless we take immediate action to combat its spread. This disease is caused by two species of pathogenic chytrid fungi, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans(Bsal), which were recently introduced to amphibian populations. These fungi thrive in wet cool environments, and amphibians in at least 60 countries have already been exposed.
Every year, millions of amphibians are traded globally for use as pets, food, and research, without any required disease screening prior to transport. In each shipment, the number of amphibians can range from one to many thousands and must be quickly released to the importer. Bd and Bsal are invisible to the naked eye, and infections rarely cause visible symptoms prior to death. Therefore, genetic sampling and laboratory analysis are the most common detection method. Rapid, cost-effective chytrid detection methods are urgently needed to stop infected animals and contaminated shipping materials from entering the USA to reduce the threat of disease to native biodiversity.
Amphibian chytrid fungi are lethal to frogs and salamanders, and we must be able to detect its presence before we can eradicate it from infected animals. This challenge seeks innovative solutions to rapidly confirm and quantify the presence of chytrid fungi (Bd and Bsal) through non-invasive techniques in material imported into the United States. This includes detection on live animals, in water samples, and on surfaces of shipping containers (cardboard boxes, plastic bags, etc.). Detection is the first step towards a longer-term goal of developing treatments to safely eradicate Bd and Bsal from large commercial shipments of live amphibians that are imported for human consumption.
There are three focus areas of this challenge:
1. LIVE ANIMALS ROADBLOCK: LIVE ANIMALS CANNOT BE HARMED OR HELD FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME.
Amphibians are purchased as exotic pets, for human consumption (as frogs legs), and biomedical research subjects, and therefore, cannot be damaged in the detection process. These animals must be released to importers as quickly as possible following their arrival in order to protect their health (in a matter of a couple hours, or less, following importation). Currently, the time required to submit DNA samples to a laboratory and obtain results can be days, if not weeks.
2. WATER SAMPLES ROADBLOCK: LARGE WATER SAMPLES ARE CURRENTLY NEEDED TO DETECT LOW CONCENTRATIONS OF BD/BSAL
Similar to the current Bd/Bsal detection methods on a live animal, a water filter sample must be collected and submitted to a laboratory for molecular analysis where the presence of pathogen DNA can be confirmed via PCR. Each sample can cost approximately $20-$40 to have processed, and low pathogen concentrations may dip below current genetic detection limits to accurately and confidently identify the presence of Bd/Bsal in water. We invite solutions to test and detect Bd/Bsal in water using low-cost techniques with a fast turn-around time between sample and result.
3. SUBSTRATES AND SURFACES OF SHIPPING MATERIALS ROADBLOCK: SUBSTRATES LIKE SHIPPING MATERIALS, SOIL, AND BAGS CAN HOST BD/BSAL ZOOSPHORES UNDETECTABLE BY SIGHT
We invite solutions to test and detect Bd/Bsal on shipping materials (cardboard boxes, plastic bags, etc.) using low-cost techniques with a fast turn-around time between sample and result.
This challenge seeks innovative approaches that provide fast results after sample collection, the ability to test many samples per shipment, and a low price per sample.
- SPEED: The time from sample collection to Bd/Bsal detection confirmation should be under 15 minutes.
- COST: Cost per sample should aim to be less US$1. The overall cost for detecting the presence of Bd/Bsal in a shipment must be less than US$50.
- POWER: Detection must be performed onsite without access to electricity.
- ACCURACY: The test must exceed the Bd qPCR sensitivity and specificity of 72.9% and 94.2%, respectively, as per Skerratt et al. (2011) and be able to detect the presence of 1 or more Bd/Bsal zoospore equivalents.
- NON-INVASIVE TO ANY ANIMAL: A tissue sample must not be required from any animal, whether live or dead, but skin swabs and water samples are allowed (one current invasive method of chytrid detection is by microscopic examination to observe the presence of infection in a tissue sample).
- QUANTIFICATION: The test must be able to quantify the burden of infection present (pathogen load).
- IDENTIFICATION: Results must provide the information needed to identify the lineage of pathogen present.
The ability to quantify the pathogen load is also desired, though not a required capability of a successful solution.
Awards:- Your project idea may be eligible for the Con X Tech Prize, a prototyping grant competition run by Conservation X Labs.