University of Queensland scientists turn Toad Busters

8 Jun 2005

One of Queensland's least welcome visitors, the cane toad, has been targeted by Institute for Molecular Bioscience researchers using powerful, modern science in an effort to improve control and eradication programs.

In using a three-pronged approach to understand toad venoms, microbes and pheromones the researchers from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and UQ's School of Integrative Biology hope to improve the efficiency of baiting and trapping programs, as well as developing microbial biocontrol agents for toad eradication.

According to Toad Buster team leader, IMB's Professor Rob Capon, cane toad venom had not undergone modern chemical analysis.

"We believe a comprehensive chemical analysis of the venom will reveal classes of toxins with potent and selective biological mechanisms.

"This will reveal a cornucopia of potential biological targets supporting the development of toad-specific poisons.

"The second aspect of our research involves identifying toad-specific pathogenic bacteria and fungi. The metabolites of these microbes may reveal many toxic chemicals with high specificity against toads, offering new avenues in poisoning.

"Finally, we are also interested in using toad pheromones to selectively attract females to baits and traps, interfere with the mating process and as a result reduce toad reproduction."

The Queensland State government recently announced $1 million in support of this research conducted at the IMB under the auspices of the new Australasian Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre. The research team is comprised of Professors Rob Capon, Paul Alewood and Richard Lewis from IMB and Professor Gordon Grigg from UQ's School of Integrative Biology.

IMB Director Professor John Mattick acknowledged the research experience and track record of the team.

"Rob Capon was the first to report cane toad venom constituents in a Queensland invasive weed, while Paul Alewood has an enviable track record in the exploring the chemical components of the venoms of Australian creatures.

"Combined with the expertise in the chemistry and molecular pharmacology of Australian marine venoms of Richard Lewis and Gordon Grigg's specialisation in cane toad ecology, we can look forward to more effective measures to control the cane toad in the future."