The skin microbiome of Xenopus laevis and the effects of husbandry conditions

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Historically the main source of laboratory Xenopus laevis was the environment. The increase in genetically altered animals and evolving governmental constraints around using wild-caught animals for research has led to the establishment of resource centres that supply animals and reagents worldwide, such as the European Xenopus Resource Centre. In the last decade, centres were encouraged to keep animals in a “low microbial load” or “clean” state, where embryos are surface sterilized before entering the housing system; instead of the conventional, “standard” conditions where frogs and embryos are kept without prior surface treatment. Despite Xenopus laevis having been kept in captivity for almost a century, surprisingly little is known about the frogs as a holobiont and how changing the microbiome may affect resistance to disease. This study examines how the different treatment conditions, “clean” and “standard” husbandry in recirculating housing, affects the skin microbiome of tadpoles and female adults. This is particularly important when considering the potential for poor welfare caused by a change in husbandry method as animals move from resource centres to smaller research colonies.
We found strong evidence for developmental control of the surface microbiome on Xenopus laevis; adults had extremely similar microbial communities independent of their housing, while both tadpole and environmental microbiome communities were less resilient and showed greater diversity.
Our findings suggest that the adult Xenopus laevis microbiome is controlled and selected by the host. This indicates that the surface microbiome of adult Xenopus laevis is stable and defined independently of the environment in which it is housed, suggesting that the use of clean husbandry conditions poses little risk to the skin microbiome when transferring adult frogs to research laboratories. This will have important implications for frog health applicable to Xenopus laevis research centres throughout the world.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2021


  • UKRI
  • BB/R014841/1


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