News / Health

Frogs Could Provide Big Leap in Antibiotics

Scientists have discovered that different species of frogs produce potent cocktails of antibiotics. (Richard Bartz)
Scientists have discovered that different species of frogs produce potent cocktails of antibiotics. (Richard Bartz)
A bit of old Russian folk wisdom could produce a crop of new antibiotics.

With drug-resistant bacteria a growing public health threat worldwide, a type of frog Russians have used to keep milk fresh could provide a fresh source of germ fighters.

Moscow State University chemist Albert Lebedev grew up in a rural part of Russia, where many people kept their own cows. In the days before refrigeration, it was a challenge to keep milk from spoiling.

So people enlisted the help of the local amphibians.

“[For] small portions of milk to drink, they used to put [a] frog inside," he says. "A small frog over there could prevent the milk from being spoiled.”

It turns out that putting a frog in your milk is not as crazy as it might sound.

Frog surgery

To explain, let’s go back about 25 years, to another surprising discovery about amphibians.

The eggs of African horned frogs are a popular tool for scientists studying the innermost workings of cells. In the late 1980s, Michael Zasloff was surgically removing frog ovaries for his research at the National Institutes of Health.

Zasloff noticed that when he put the frogs back in their slimy aquarium homes, without the benefit of antibiotics, “The frogs healed after surgery without exhibiting any signs of infection or inflammation.”

Zasloff and his colleagues discovered that’s because the skin of the African horned frog produces unique anti-microbial compounds.

Potent cocktails

Then they discovered that other species of frog also produce potent cocktails of antibiotics.

“What is amazing is that no two frogs have the same cocktail," he says. "They’re all different, and all beautifully tuned to deal with the microbes that these animals face.”

And for frogs, dealing with microbes on their skin is a matter of life and death. They breathe and drink through their skin, and spend much of their time in waters teeming with microbes.

Moscow State University’s Albert Lebedev says the more scientists looked, the more kinds of chemicals they found coming out of the skins of amphibians.

“They can be antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, antitumor, neuropeptides, analgesics," and so on," he says. "So, a lot of various functions.”

Milk preservatives

All of these functions are performed by chemicals known as peptides.

When Lebedev studied the frogs Russians used to keep their milk fresh, “We found something like 80 peptides," he says.

And each one is apparently responsible for something.

"We don’t know now exactly what every peptide is for,” he says, "but they do know that several of them kill Staph bacteria, a kind of germ responsible for serious skin infections; and Salmonella, which causes food poisoning.

That would explain why a frog in the milk keeps it fresh.

Lebedev says the frog chemicals work at very, very low concentrations, “which is fantastic. This is the scale of activity of very potent antibiotics.”

It will be years before these antibiotics find their way into doctor’s offices and hospitals, if they ever do. Lebedev says developing peptide drugs is expensive and difficult.

But some are in development. Michael Zasloff, now at Georgetown University, has been working on a drug to treat diabetic foot infections, based on one of the African horned frog peptides.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: The Physics Police
January 10, 2013 3:58 AM
Frogs were never used by Russians or any other sane person to keep milk fresh. The skins contain antibiotics, but their bloated, drown corpses and deification do nothing to preserve the freshness of milk! Read more: http://thephysicspolice.blogspot.com/2013/01/myth-russian-milk-frogging.html


by: Lynne Carmody from: Michigan
January 03, 2013 12:34 PM
I want to know why it will take so long? Over and over again we are told about great possibilities for drugs... but it will take years and years to develop. If they have so much potential fast track them somehow!!!!!! I know the testing,etc.etc.etc. But get realistic, work out of the system. It is getting so tiresome. There must be a better way.

In Response

by: Carole from: Connecticut
January 04, 2013 2:14 PM
Don't worry - the frogs aren't surviving the rise in the planet's temperature so they won't be around long enough to provide a "cure" for humanity's woes, anyway. Maybe we need to figure out a different way to live, without the need for drugs, period.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid