Science on Tap: A Mayday Success

Our first Science on Tap at Mayday was a big success! With over 30 guests in the audience, it was immediately apparent that a change in venue was great for the program. Our guest speaker was Dr. Louise Rollins-Smith, a professor in the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. One of the best things about starting a Science Cafe program is that it is designed to make complex topics and theories approachable, easily understood, and appreciated by the general public.

A very brief synopsis of Dr. Rollins-Smith’s work tells us that she tests frogs for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)–but we don’t know what that means so it’s hard to synthesize the information. Through the course of the presentation, we learned that this research began in the 1990’s when scientists realized that frogs were dying en masse with no real explanation. Through collaboration and research, a network of scientists was able to identify Bd as a culprit of this phenomenon and have been working to track the progress and evolution of this fungus. In layman’s terms, Dr. Rollins-Smith and her contemporaries have spent many years studying the harmful effects that a fungus, called Bd, has on frogs around the world. This fungus attacks frogs through their skin, so the scientists are able to safely swab a frog’s skin to test for the presence of this pathogen and see how far it has traveled and whether individual species have developed immunity to it.

At this point, you might be wondering if this research is anything more than an affinity for frogs. Yes, absolutely yes! While they are still looking for resolution to the Bd outbreak, the lab has determined that amphibian anti-microbial peptides can kill the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This breakthrough gives scientists around the world a new platform for imagining ways to combat HIV and other viruses.

What started with some incredibly complex syllables became an engaging conversation about the way local scientists are using frogs to further their knowledge about amphibian immune systems and what that means for treating human illnesses. We don’t have our next Science on Tap scheduled, but we are looking forward to growing this program and seeing even more in the audience at the next event!

Science on Tap is sponsored by the Nashville Section of the American Chemical Society and hosted by Mayday Brewery.