Scientists have unlocked the DNA of the cane toad

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  • Scientists have cracked the genetic code of cane toad.
  • The world-first will help scientists understand how the toad spreads, how its toxin works, and find ways to control them.
  • The researchers deciphered more than 90% of cane toad genes.

Scientists have unlocked the DNA of the cane toad, the poisonous amphibian threatening many native Australian species.

The findings by scientists from the University of NSW Sydney, the University of Sydney, Deakin University, Portugal and Brazil, were published in academic journal GigaScience today.

“Despite its iconic status, there are major gaps in our understanding of cane toad genetics, and up until now, no one had put the genome together,” says Peter White, project leader and Professor in Microbiology and Molecular Biology at UNSW.

A decade ago, researchers in Western Australia tried to sequence the cane toad genome, but they hit obstacles when it came to assembling it, and didn’t complete the project.

The scientists explain:

Sequencing and assembling a genome is a complicated process. The team had to sequence 360-odd billion base pairs.

Senior Lecturer Dr Rich Edwards, lead author of the study, says the team managed to decipher more than 90% of the cane toad genes using technology that can sequence very long pieces of DNA.

Having a draft cane toad genome will help close key knowledge gaps and accelerate cane toad research. More toads can now be sequenced at a fraction of the cost, and the genome is freely available — anyone can access it now and conduct further research.

Cane toads have spread widely since being introduced in Queensland for control of the cane beetle in 1935.

Millions of toads now occupy more than 1.2 million square kilometres. It fatally poisons native species such the northern quoll, freshwater crocodiles, and several species of native lizards and snakes.

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