Life Science Cane toads’ days may be numbered after genetic breakthrough
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Cane toads’ days may be numbered after genetic breakthrough

Cane toad
Unstoppable: Millions of toads now occupy more than 1.2 million square kilometres of Australia.
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The days of the infernal cane toad may soon be over after scientists cracked the deadly amphibian’s DNA code. 

International scientists working with UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and Deakin University, have unlocked more than 90 per cent of the toad’s genome.

The poisonous toads have wreaked havoc on northern quolls, freshwater crocodiles and several species of native lizards and snakes since their introduction in Queensland in 1935 to help control cane beetles.

Millions of toads now occupy more than 1.2 million square kilometres of Australia following a seemingly unstoppable march across the top end.

Virologist Professor Peter White says despite the toad’s iconic status, there were major gaps in science’s understanding of its genetics.

“But we’ve now got the blueprint as well as the plans to the factory,” Professor White told AAP.

Already Professor White’s team has used the toad’s genetics to find three new viruses that with further work may become bio-controls to stem the toad’s march across the country.

“We’re now going to see how prevalent they are in the population, going all the way back to South America, and then we’ll see how pathogenic they are,” he said.

“Hopefully, they’re very pathogenic, and then we can begin testing them.”

Professor White said the team needed to be sure any biocontrol created won’t affect native amphibians.

“We don’t want to introduce anything that’s going to kill frogs or newts, it has to be cane toad specific,” he said.

Viruses have previously been successfully used to control the European rabbit population.

The findings were published in the academic journal GigaScience.

-with AAP