‘MTSU On the Record’ guest leads students in snake...

‘MTSU On the Record’ guest leads students in snake hunt to examine pathogens, fungus

Intrepid microbial biology students on the trail of some southeastern snakes were the focus of a recent “MTSU On the Record” radio program.

Dr. Donald M. Walker, assistant professor, Department of Biology, College of Basic and Applied Sciences

Dr. Donald Walker

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Dr. Donald Walker of MTSU’s Department of Biology first aired Aug. 13 on WMOT-FM Roots Radio 89.5 and online at You can listen to their conversation above

Walker and some MTSU students went “road cruising,” as it is called, along back roads in rural areas at night using high-beam headlights to locate timber rattlesnakes.

He said the students were trained in how to handle the snakes, which are docile and unlikely to attack anything they wouldn’t eat. After taking the snakes back to the laboratory, the researchers used sterile swabs to gently obtain DNA from their skin for testing.

The hypothesis they’re investigating is that certain bacteria on the snakes’ skin are beneficial in helping the creature combat snake fungal disease. Characteristics of snake fungal disease include crusty or ulcerated skin, abnormal bumps and abnormal molting. Walker said the testing results so far have been very consistent.

“The patterns that we observed with regard to the microorganisms living on the snakes’ skin and how we think they’re affecting that particular pathogen held true across both broad to very fine scale spatial extents,” Walker said. “So this … adds more weight to our conclusions as a whole.”

Walker said the laboratory methods being used are nonlethal and minimally invasive to the snakes.

To hear previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, visit the searchable “Audio Clips” archives at

For more information about “MTSU On the Record,” contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.