The Wednesday Post (1/9/10)

Enough of vaccines for a moment. I want to talk about frogs, frogs and antimicrobial agents.

Normally I find it hard to remain interested in anything with a central nervous system but recently two frog related stories have caught my eye. First was this little dude.

Are you kidding me, that thing is tiny. Sometimes its hard to separate what ‘should be big’ like animals with skeletons and brains etc from what ‘should be small’ – anything that can be measured by ‘the number that could fit on the end of a pencil’. It turns out we have known about them for a while but they were incorrectly classified by a museum who thought they were juveniles of a different species, easy mistake to make I guess. They live in the pitchers of the plant Nepenthes ampullaria and the tadpoles develop in the watery discharge inside the pitcher until they can climb out. Awesome.

As interesting as this little guy is it’s hardly a disease or even remotely disease-y enough on its own. I only mention it was the first of two frog stories that caught my eye.

At a meeting of the American Chemical Society last week a group of researchers from the United Arab Emirates University presented some data showing they had collected and analysed frog skin compounds that elicited an anti-microbial effects from a wide range of species. They have been able to isolate over 200 novel compounds in only a year, which suggests that there are hundreds more compounds to find.

Specifically what they found was a number of potent anti-microbial peptides. Most organisms produce something of this nature and in fact humans produce our own AMP’s, but, human pathogens evolve to evade human defences so the sudden potential availability of new AMP’s may help in the production of new drugs for the treatment of human diseases.

The next step is to take these new compounds as they are identified and check for toxicity to human cells and to make any changes that can mitigate toxicity without affecting the anti-microbial potency. With some compounds already showing promise in regards to bacterial species like the infamous ‘Golden Staph’ frog based therapies might not be too far fetched and with any luck not too far away either.

In the long run the problem with developing these therapies might be us as it’s estimated that many frogs species are becoming extinct and humans are certainly responsible for some of this.

Unless you’re not a nature and biology lover already perhaps this provides a good enough reason for you to protect the environment. As clever as we are at experiments and drug design nature has undoubtedly done it somewhere before. Nature’s experiments are better designed and take place over a longer time frame.

So protect the frogs, newts, salamanders and all animal life if only on the off chance they might one day save your life.


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Blaustein, A., & Kiesecker, J. (2002). Complexity in conservation: lessons from the global decline of amphibian populations Ecology Letters, 5 (4), 597-608 DOI: 10.1046/j.1461-0248.2002.00352.x
Smet, K., & Contreras, R. (2005). Human Antimicrobial Peptides: Defensins, Cathelicidins and Histatins Biotechnology Letters, 27 (18), 1337-1347 DOI: 10.1007/s10529-005-0936-5



Filed under James' Corner

7 responses to “The Wednesday Post (1/9/10)

  1. “Normally I find it hard to remain interested in anything with a central nervous system ” This is my standard answer when I get appealed to in pub-discussions as a biological expert on anything animal related, (as in “you’re a scientist … do fish have lungs?”)

    I seem to remember randomly looking up frogs for a post about a year ago, and the reason they have so many antimicrobials covering their skin is that they makes up a vital part of the frogs immune system. Water (and accompanying diseases) can be absorbed straight through the skin, so they need a lot of defence-work there.

    • Not only that but certain species can engage in gas exchange – breathing – through their skin.
      I’m not saying that higher order taxa are less interesting, just less interesting to me. Good thing we both read widely, just in case we are asked this stuff in the pub 😉

      • Xien_Rue

        Well, in contrast with your opinion, I find the higher taxa to be more interesting ^_^

        The higher taxa complexity is fascinating me more. But, of course it is a matter of opinion. If everyone like me, there would be no one to research the lower taxa organism ^_-

      • Each to their own I guess 🙂

  2. Uwe

    James James, without any long term interest in anything with a central nervous system, I really can’t see your marriage lasting.
    However, to the point, the antibacterial effects of frog skin has been known for a long time in fact some of the old homeopathic medicines from various cultures often used frog skins, so there maybe some limited antibacterial activity. However, this should not be read as any support for the quack science of homeopathic medicine which for the most part is just a way to extract money from those who do not know better.

    • I should have added that caveat I suppose. Also don’t say that the frog stuff is homeopathic. It gives them a sense that they might be relevant. I would say that a lot of that kind of stuff carries over from old wives tales and records made by Naturalists (not Naturopaths).

      • Uwe

        I stand corrected yes Naturalists of course. I never intended to imply that this was in anyway Homeopathic or supportive of this witchcraft, however you can’t rule out that it is used in some traditional medicine and so perhaps I should have used words like Shamans and Medicine-men instead.

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