Got Flu? You Might Just Need Some Good, Fresh Frog Slime

Poisonous frogs are nasty. They range from the constantly flesh-irritating to the wait-I-can’t-move-anymore death sentence types.

But as dangerous poisonous frogs seem to be, their method of toxic delivery has always been of particular interest to researchers worldwide. As one specific type of ‘poisonous’ frog proves, they may even provide huge benefits in medicine, particularly for your next flu strike.

It Obliterates Flu, Literally
Credit via Wikimedia Commons by David V. Raju

A certain species of South Indian frogs, scientifically designated as Hydrophylax bahuvistara, has been shown by scientists at the Emory University School of Medicine to secrete a special type of peptide on its skin. This peptide, or amino acid chain, not only resists a wide variety of H1-subtype flu virus, but actually eliminates them via what is called as “integrity disruption”. Basically, the frog’s skin slime kills the flu virus by breaking them down into bits.

Frogs typically secrete peptides on their skin to disinfect and to protect them from microorganisms. This skin defense mechanism is also the basis for many of the poison delivery body systems most poisonous frogs have. In the case of the South Indian frogs, when they are stimulated via specific means, the peptides are released. While it does many of the observed wonders against H1 flu viruses, it seems completely harmless as a defensive ‘poison’. This means that it only kills flu viruses, and nothing else, or at least, nothing that would make anyone worry when coming into contact with the substance.

The discovery of the frog peptide understandably confounded and surprised scientists. What they have found was a specific substance that is seemingly designed only to accomplish a single objective: to destroy a certain type of microscopic abomination with pinpoint (biological) accuracy. The researchers have aptly named the substance urumin, based on the badass “urumi” whip-swords that the ancient South Indian natives previously used.

Frog Slime Pills Anyone?
Credit via Flickr by underclasscameraman

After studying urumin’s properties and biological mechanisms, it was subsequently tested on mice (surprise!). The largely unvaccinated mice were able to fight off what would otherwise be a lethal dose of the virus, all thanks to the wonders of this frog slime.

So, with this achievement, should we expect frog slime flu medicine to be the norm soon? Not just yet. Aside from the standard transition difficulties in medical applications between mice and humans, it is worth noting that urumin was shown to be effective only against H1-subtype flu viruses. Sure, this includes a wide variety of the more regularly encountered types, but this also means that other advanced strains, such as the recent H3N2, would be largely unaffected by it.

Researchers are currently focusing on stabilizing urumin as a peptide. One of the biggest challenges to peptide-based drugs is the way our enzymes simply break them down into simpler amino acids, thus erasing any expected medicinal effects. Should an early success be achieved, the team would be ready to move the research to find even more frog-derived peptides that can fight other common virulent diseases.

Source: Emory University

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