Research on toxins in amphibians: role in warding off predators
The skin of toxic amphibians is known to contain many interesting substances. Certain toxins, for instance, function as powerful painkillers, potent antihypertensives and as strong antibiotics against resistant bacteria, cancer cells and viruses. Because of these interesting applications this to date has been the main focus of research. However, the exact function of these proteins within the frog is not very well known.
Frogs use these protein-like toxins to defend themselves against predators and microbial infections. Many of these toxins structurally resemble hormones which we encounter in a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and other vertebrates. Therefore for decades it was assumed these hormone-like toxins protected the frog by administering their predators an overdose of these hormones, thereby disturbing their physiology. This, however, has never been properly researched on a molecular level.
Therefore this research focuses on how this cocktail of toxins functions to protect these frogs against their predators. Predator/prey interactions will be examined in real-life on the molecular level. The research will be conducted by Tijn Raaijmakers and Kim Roelants at the University of Brussels and in corporation with the University of Gent, both in Belgium. Not only will this research shed light on the function of frog toxins and the biology of amphibians in general, it might also lead to the discovery of novel functions interesting for medical applications.
The Herpetofauna foundation has assisted this research by helping to cover the costs of animals and equipment.