Prince of Peptides


The skin of smelly amphibians may hold clues to solving the growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotic drugs. Odorous frogs, which emit a smell similar to rotting fish, have evolved over eons to release chemicals in their skin called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) to ward off infection in their warm, damp, bacteria-loving habitats. Although AMPs are found in all forms of life, from invertebrates to mammals, amphibian skin exhibits an extraordinary array of the chemical.

A team led by Yun Zhang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found more than 700 kinds of AMPs in the skin of nine odorous frogs in China. That’s nearly one-third of all the AMPs found in the world and the largest-known diversity of these substances.

These AMPs “may provide plenty of templates to develop novel peptide antibiotics,” says Wen-Hui Lee, a member of Zhang’s team. “Perhaps in the next five years, peptide antibiotics will be approved to use in clinics to solve the bacterial resistance problem.”

Scientists know that, unlike conventional antibiotics, peptide antibiotics can kill bacteria quickly, therefore reducing the chances of bacterial resistance. Some of these AMPs may not only kill the bacteria but also stimulate the host’s immune system to aid in the fight.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Vanessa Schipani is a former editorial assistant at The American Scholar.


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