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Serious disease in pet lizards caused by new bacteria - The discovery of a new species of bacteria that causes dermatitis in pet lizards could help protect endangered species.
- Microbiology Today
Skin infections are common in pet lizards and can lead to fatal organ disease
and septicaemia. Infections are particularly risky in lizards that are bred in
captivity for release into the wild, as they can spread into the wild population.
The cause of these diseases has been unclear but now researchers in Belgium have
discovered a new bacterium responsible for dermatitis in
desert lizards. According to research published in the September 2008 issue of
Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, the discovery
could help control the disease and protect endangered species.
Desert-dwelling lizards belonging to the genera Agama and Uromastyx that live
in the arid and desert areas of North Africa are now bred in captivity in Europe. “The
establishment of healthy captive populations is an important tool for the conservation
of threatened species,” said Professor An Martel from Ghent University,
Belgium. “On the other hand, restocking of wild populations with captive
bred animals carrying pathogens might compromise the survival of these wild populations.
Skin diseases are highly prevalent in captive lizards.”
Dermatitis is the most important known bacterial disease of desert lizards
that prevents successful captive populations from being established. One example
is the captive breeding programme of the rare Oman dab lizard (Uromastyx thomasi)
a joint project between Germany and Oman, to which pathogens like this may pose
a real threat.
“We isolated bacteria from five different desert lizards suffering from
dermatitis, two agama lizards (Agama impalearis) and three spiny-tailed lizards
(Uromastyx geyri and U. acanthinura),” said Professor Martel. “We
could not identify the bacterium that was causing the disease, but the pathogen
was the same in all five lizards.”
The researchers looked at the genetic sequence of the bacterium and discovered
it represents a new taxon and species. They have named the bacterium Devriesea
agamarum (Devriesea referring to the veterinary microbiologist L.A. Devriese
and agamarum after Agama, an Old World reptile). “We have demonstrated
a causal relationship between this bacterium and skin lesions in desert-dwelling
lizards,” said Professor Martel. “This microbe is also related to
bacteria that cause skin infections in humans.”
The cases of dermatitis and septicaemia from which the new bacterium Devriesea
agamarum was isolated are highly prevalent, especially in captive lizards. The
researchers hope the identification of this species will contribute to our understanding
of lizard skin disease and help develop control measures. “In the future
we would like to study host-pathogen interactions, design treatments and investigate
the use of a vaccination to prevent the development of disease caused by Devriesea
agamarum,” said Professor Martel.