Frogs eat annoying, disease-carrying mosquitoes that we’re so eager to get rid of, as well as other insects and pests, and despite being a tasty snack for various omnivores, including humans, have survived 300 million years of earth’s onslaughts. Their divergent adaptations make the strangest circus seem dull: some use their eyeballs to swallow and another – the Gastric Brooding frog now extinct – used to swallow its eggs and raise its tadpoles in its stomach.
Sadly, approximately 1/3 of frog species have gone extinct. Conservation International (CI) scientists are currently scouring forest floors and caves and water bodies around the world for amphibian species in order to find ways to protect them. And if we – and I do mean we since we contribute to their habitat’s health – are successful at rehabilitating endangered populations, not only will we score a victory for biodiversity, but we’ll also score a victory for human health.
Frogs have a permeable skin through which they absorb oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a result, they are very sensitive to their environment. Most live near water – though not all – where they are susceptible to increasingly harmful pathogens as a result of agricultural and human runoff, in addition to a variety of other factors.
Because of this environment, according to Kathleen Blanchard who writes for EMaxHealth, frogs have also evolved a variety of effective chemicals that help stave off potential disease. Some frogs produce hallucinogenic chemicals on their skin that are used as recreational drugs, although we don’t recommend you go home and lick a frog since doing so can be fatally poisonous to humans. This has made using frog chemicals in human applications challenging, at least until now.
“Scientists from the American Chemical Society are tweaking the molecular structure of the frog compounds to turn them into powerful infection fighters that last in the blood stream, are non toxic and make it hard for bacteria to develop resistance,” according to Blanchard.
It is said that 100 substances are present of various frog species’ skin that can help create antibiotics to which superbugs are not immune.
“Frog skin is an excellent potential source of such antibiotic agents,” said Conlon, a biochemist at the United Arab Emirates University in Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi Emirate.
“One species of frog used in a new study was powerful enough to fight “Iraqibacter”, a dangerous infection that affects wounded soldiers and is highly resistant to current antibiotic treatment,” writes Blanchard.
And while it may seem cruel to capture frogs for use in biology labs, UAE University scientists are careful to swab the frogs’ skin in order to capture and then unravel the chemicals’ molecular structure, after which they return the frogs to their natural habitat.
“Conlon foresees pharmaceutical companies developing clinical trials from the frog skin chemicals that could be made into new antibiotic creams, lotions and injections. Some of the substances could be trialed within the next five years. Of the 6000 frog species available for screening, only 200 of the chemical structures have been identified and purified for antibiotic development,” says Blanchard.