Frog snot gives hope for flu cure

Barsaba Taglieri
Aprile 19, 2017

Kissing a frog may not conjure a prince, but mucus from one colorful Indian variety could one day lead to new ways to fight off the flu, the Verge reports.

When researchers squeezed some urumin into the noses of lab mice, the peptide protected them against what would have otherwise been a lethal dose of H1 flu virus, the kind responsible for the 2009 swine flu pandemic. That molecule, called urumin, is named after the Indian "urumi" sword that looks and acts like a whip and is found in the country's Kerala region, which is also where this particular frog hails from.

"It's a natural innate immune mediator that all living organisms maintain", said Josh Jacob, who co-authored the study at Emory University, Georgia.

Nearly all animals - including humans - make antimicrobial peptides as part of their natural immune systems. The scientists involved in the study first collected mucus from the frogs by applying slight electrical shocks to them, which causes them to secrete the substance, notes. A team, led by Joshy Jacob from Emory University, chose to screen 32 of these peptides against an influenza A strain. "In the beginning, I thought that when you do drug discovery, you have to go through thousands of drug candidates, even a million, before you get 1 or 2 hits".

In another part to the study, the scientists tested the action of urumin in vivo by testing the extent to which peptide treatment could protect mice infected with the flu. Jacob and his colleagues screened 32 frog defense peptides against an influenza strain and found that 4 of them had flu-busting abilities.

One of the molecules, urumin, successfully killed several viral strains, as well as a number of harmful microbes.

Anti-flu peptides could become handy when vaccines are unavailable, in the case of a new pandemic strain, or when circulating strains become resistant to current drugs, says senior author Joshy Jacob, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory Vaccine Center and Emory University School of Medicine. "What this peptide does is it binds to the hemagglutinin and destabilizes the virus".

Side-by-side electron microscope image of flu virus before and after being exposed to urumin.

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