In order to fight mucus, we must use… other, different mucus! That glowing mental image aside, scientists have discovered a frog in southern India that may be able to provide relief for flu sufferers. This frog, or more accurately the slime it secretes, contains a peptide that completely obliterates certain flu cells. Scientists have no idea how it does it, but learning more about these reactions could lead to a greater understanding and ability to deal with the flu.
One of the most interesting aspects of this frog-based peptide is that it seems to be non-toxic. The secretions of some frogs are deadly to humans. This means that this particular frog’s mucus could be a treatment all on its own. Unlocking the peptide’s mysteries could, however, be of even greater use. To get at the good stuff, researchers had to lightly shock some frogs. First they found and caught several examples of Hydrophylax bahuvistara (the frogs) and applied “mild electrical stimulation” in order to get them to
spill their guts secrete some of their super-goo. After their free electrical massage, the frogs were released back into the wild, no worse for wear.
The frog goo they obtained included four different peptides that seemed beneficial. One of those was also non-toxic to human red blood cells and was named urumin, based on the word urumi, which is a variety of Indian sword. That name is particularly apt based on what urumin does to influenza cells… but we’ll get to that in a minute.
You’ve probably heard flu names like H1N1, or H5N1 in the news. The H and N are two types of viral proteins that make up flu cells. Urumin works by taking out the “H” (hemagglutinin – HA) in certain flu strains. The researchers were able to throw any H1NX strains at urumin, and it could shut them down immediately. Unfortunately, it could only specifically target H1 cells, dashing the hopes of the researchers that they’d found a universal cure for the flu. Urumin does, however, dispatch with these cells in a way that, if it can be replicated, could ultimately lead to that universal cure:
Moreover, urumin had an interesting effect on the virus: it made them explode. Usually, antiviral peptides that latch onto an HA simply block HA and keep the virus from invading cells with it, but viruses treated with urumin were destroyed. The researchers aren’t sure why, but they hypothesize that after urumin binds HA, it exerts electrostatic forces on the surface of the particle that cause the whole shell to rupture.
Again, it’s a big “if” but if researchers can figure out how urumin is able to do what it does to H1 flu cells, that could be replicated to work on other strains of the flu, rendering it completely inert. Well, completely destroyed after its HA gets blown up. If nothing else they’ve seen enough to warrant further research. Way to go frogs!