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Frogs in milk: Household cure may produce antibiotics

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While there are new worldwide fears of vaccine-resistant strains of malaria, a bit of - rather inedible bit of Russian folk wisdom has come to the possible rescue. The skin of the African horned toad has found to be rich in peptides, each attuned to whatever toxicity the environment has. Researchers made this connection due to the Old Russian practice of putting frogs in milk.   

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Moscow University Chemist Albert Lebedev lived in a rural place where people kept their own cows. Since refrigeration was scarce, keeping milk from spoiling proved to be a major challenge. The people there turned to the frogs for help.

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

While this seems like a highly unorthodox practice, it has basis in scientific fact. It turns out that the eggs of African horned frogs are a popular tool for studying cells. Michael Zasloff in the late 1980s was surgically removing frog ovaries for his research at the National Institutes of Health.

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

Zasloff and his colleagues found out that this was due to the fact that the skin of the African horned frog produces unique anti-microbial compounds. They also 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."

Dealing with bacteria on skin for frogs is crucial, as the amphibians breathe and drink through their skin. Frogs also spend much of their time in waters teeming with microbes.

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," he says. "So, a lot of various functions."

These functions are performed by chemicals known as peptides. "We found something like 80 peptides," Lebedev says. He then studied the frogs Russians used to keep their milk fresh. Each peptide had its very own special function.

"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.

This could partially explain why a frog in the milk keeps it fresh.

It appears that the frog chemicals work at very, very low concentrations, "which is fantastic. This is the scale of activity of very potent antibiotics." The down side is that it will be years before these antibiotics find their way into doctor's offices and hospitals, if they ever do, as developing peptide drugs is expensive and difficult.

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