Frog skin contains natural substances that could be the basis for a powerful new genre of antibiotics, revealed by researchers.
In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the team of stalwart frog-fanciers described enlisting colleagues worldwide to ship secretions from hundreds of promising frog skins to their laboratory in the United Arab Emirates.
Using that amphibious treasure trove, they identified more than 100 antibiotic substances in the skins of different frog species from around the world. One even fights “Iraqibacter,” the bacterium responsible for drug-resistant infections in wounded soldiers returning from Iraq.
Michael Conlon, Ph.D., who reported on the research, noted that the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, which have the ability to shrug off conventional antibiotics, is a growing problem worldwide. As a result, patients need new types of antibiotics to replace drugs that no longer work.
“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. “They’ve been around 300 million years, so they’ve had plenty of time to learn how to defend themselves against disease-causing microbes in the environment. Their own environment includes polluted waterways where strong defenses against pathogens are a must.”
Scientists have known for years that the skin of frogs is a rich source of chemicals capable of killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Researchers have attempted to isolate those germ-fighting chemicals and make them suitable for development into new antibiotics. Success, however, has been elusive because froggy antibiotics tend to be toxic to human cells and certain chemicals in the bloodstream easily destroy them.
Conlon and colleagues described an approach to overcome these problems. They discovered a way to tweak the molecular structure of frog skin antibiotic substances, making them less toxic to human cells but more powerful germ killers. Similarly, the scientists also discovered other tweaks that enabled the frog skin secretions to shrug off attack by destructive enzymes in the blood. The result was antibiotics that last longer in the bloodstream and are more likely to be effective as infection fighters, Conlon noted.
The antibiotic substances work in an unusual way that makes it very difficult for disease-causing microbes to develop resistance, Conlon said.
The scientists are currently screening skin secretions from more than 6,000 species of frogs for antibiotic activity. So far, they have purified and determined the chemical structure of barely 200, leaving a potential bonanza of antibiotic substances awaiting discovery.
Source: American Chemical Society, USA