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Video: Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year 2018

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Publication Date: 
October 2018

Transcript

[Music plays and text appears below the Frank Fenner Prize logo: Dr Lee Berger, Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year]

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger inspecting a sample in a bottle]

Lee Berger:

By the end of the ’80s there was huge concern that frogs were disappearing and we didn’t know why that was.

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger, seated and talking to the camera]

There was this sort of general idea that frogs were the canary in the coal mine, that something was happening to the environment and that we might be next,

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger presenting some slides to a roomful of people and then changes to show Dr Lee Berger, seated and talking to the camera]

so there was a lot of effort looking at pollution, increased UV, radiation, climate change.

[Image changes to show the outside of the Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences building and then shows Dr Lee Berger walking and talking with a small group of people]

None of these causes really fitted in.

[Image changes back to show Dr Lee Berger, seated and talking to the camera]

Our team in Australia, they came up with this idea that the cause was the spread of an infectious disease.

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger and colleagues working in a laboratory type setting]

The brief I was given was, we think it’s an infectious disease, can you find out what it is. Then they went to some populations that were still abundant up near Cook Town in the far north,

[Image changes back to show Dr Lee Berger, seated and talking to the camera]

and by going back every couple of weeks, sure enough they were there when the crash occurred and that was the first time that sick and dying frogs were collected for pathology.

[Image changes to show slides being viewed under a microscope and then back to Dr Lee Berger talking to the camera]

Initially we suspected there might be a virus that was killing them, but it turned out to be this superficial fungus that grows on the skin that caused the fatal disease.

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger and colleagues inspecting small bottles in a laboratory type setting]

So this fungus, it’s among the worst infectious diseases in history, it’s caused over 200 species of frogs, around the world, to decline or become extinct.

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger and a colleague approaching a body of water, looking for frogs]

It took about a decade to get enough evidence to really convince everyone that the cause of the decline was this introduced pathogen. Our work has led to a paradigm shift in attitudes to the impact of emerging disease on biodiversity.

[Image changes to show Dr Lee Berger and colleagues swapping small frogs]

It’s been wonderful to win the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year after decades looking at fungus on the skin of frogs,

[Image changes back to show Dr Lee Berger, seated and talking to the camera]

it’s wonderful to get this work in the spotlight and to give this issue the attention that it needs.

[Image changes back to show Dr Lee Berger and colleagues collecting samples and details on their sample of frogs]

I’ve loved being a researcher because I feel like it’s making a difference to the world.

[Image changes to show the camera zooming in on Dr Lee Berger, who is standing in front of group of people]

I’ve been blessed to work with a great team, whose motivation is to save frogs and it’s been a real joy.

[Music plays and text appears below the Frank Fenner Prize logo: Dr Lee Berger, Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year]

Read more

Read more about the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2018.