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Australian frog is first to make its own chemical weapons

Researchers have identified an Australian poison frog that makes its own toxin rather than getting it from food sources. It is the first documented case of a vertebrate that generates its own poison alkaloids, complex chemicals that are usually associated with plants, the researchers said.

Poison frogs release alkaloids from their skin to defend against predators. Until now, the researchers believed that all obtained their alkaloids from eating insects.

The discovery was reported in the April 3 Web edition of the Journal of Natural Products, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society. The discovery will also be described April 8 in Orlando, Fla., at the Societys 223rd national meeting.

This was surprising. We didnt expect it, said John W. Daly, Ph.D., a biochemist with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and lead investigator for the study.

Daly is this years winner of the Societys Ernest Guenther Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in natural products chemistry. He will be honored at an award ceremony April 9 in conjunction with the meeting.

Over the past four decades, Daly and colleagues have investigated hundreds of frog species from all over the world and discovered a wide range of biologically active alkaloids, many of which have become widely used as research tools and as lead compounds for the development of drugs, including heart stimulants, antibiotics and pain killers.

Of the over 500 alkaloids they have characterized from frog skin, most are still believed to have originated from an insect food source. Frogs are the only vertebrates known to obtain alkaloids from the diet. While snakes and other vertebrates can make their own venom or poison, these materials are made of toxic proteins or other chemicals, not alkaloids, Daly said.

One class of alkaloids is found only in Australian frogs of the genus,
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Contact: Beverly Hassell
b_hassell@acs.org
202-872-4065
American Chemical Society
5-Apr-2002


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