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VIU prof researching ways to protect frogs and oysters from disease

Microbiology prof receives grants totalling more than $175,000
VIU microbiology professor Andrew Loudon’s research is focusing on the relationship between animals and microbes. (Vancouver Island University photo)

A researcher at Vancouver Island University is investigating how microbes could protect spotted frogs from a deadly disease and breed improved disease resistance into the Pacific oyster.

The work is being carried out by VIU microbiology professor Andrew Loudon, whose research focuses on the relationship between animals and microbes and how bacteria affect an animal’s ability to fight disease or deal with environmental challenges caused by climate change.

Loudon is also examining the immune system of frogs, since some have anti-microbial peptides that may control which microbes live on their skin.

“Animals have microbes, bacteria, that are associated with them. As humans, we have bacteria on our skin, in our gastrointestinal tract and other places,” Loudon said in a press release. “When people think of microbes they think about food-borne illnesses and getting sick, but what I’m examining are the good microbes that help us.”

The professor is trying to understand why animals have the microbes they do, how the microbe communities form and what impact they have on the animals such as the Columbia spotted frog. Loudon is researching to determine if certain microbes can defend against a fungal pathogen that is killing amphibians worldwide. Knowledge gained from his work could lead to selectively breeding frogs to have the right skin peptides and skin bacteria to fight disease.

Loudon’s research is in collaboration with Brandon Sheafor, professor of biology at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.

Frogs are vital for mosquito mitigation and ecological health, but Loudon said there have been some local extinction events because of disease, habitat destruction and chemical and noise pollution.

Loudon is also working to protect Pacific oysters from the vibrio pathogen, which causes high death rates in farmed Pacific oysters. That project is being done at the Deep Bay Marine Research Station with Timothy Green, VIU’s Canada research chair of shellfish health, and students, and the researchers are trying to determine whether microbial manipulations early in larval development affect the long-term health of farmed oysters.

Loudon received a $165,000 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant distributed over five years to pursue his research, plus a supplement grant of $12,500 for early career researchers.

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About the Author: Nanaimo Bulletin News Staff

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