Playing with Nature

Synthetic Biology and the Amphibian Extinction Crisis


  • Katherine J Healzer Mountain View High School
  • Michelle M Howard Stanford University


The uncontrolled spread of infectious diseases may have catastrophic worldwide consequences. Amphibian populations, including frogs, face unprecedented biodiversity loss and potential extinction due to the chytrid fungus. Chytridiomycosis is caused by two fungal species, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans, which originated in Asia and are spread by wildlife trade. Over 501 amphibian species have declined in number, 90 species are presumed extinct, and additional losses are predicted as anthropogenic trade eliminates geographic barriers and threatens biodiversity (Scheele et al., 2019). While we now understand much about the epidemiology and natural course of this disease, a treatment remains elusive. Infection control guidelines and a reduction in wildlife trade are urgently needed; in addition, emerging biosynthetic engineering tools may help mitigate the decline in frog and amphibian populations.


Author Biographies

Katherine J Healzer, Mountain View High School

Katherine J. Healzer is a junior at Mountain View High School interested in the intersection of synthetic biology and ecological conversation. She is a research assistant to Dr. Megan Palmer, Executive Director of Bio Policy & Leadership Initiatives in the Stanford University Department of Bioengineering. 

Michelle M Howard, Stanford University

Michelle M. Howard is a master's of science candidate in management science & engineering in the decision & risk analysis track. With a background in management consulting, data analytics, and biosecurity policy research, Michelle hopes to someday integrate a variety of perspectives within healthcare to create policies which promote both ethics and innovation.