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Frog research - more than skin deep

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

The University of Adelaide's Professor John Bowie has been awarded the 2003 Sir Joseph Verco medal for his outstanding research investigating frog skin secretions.

Professor Bowie, from University's School of Chemistry and Physics, has been awarded the medal by the Royal Society of South Australia.

Professor Bowie and members of his research group, in collaboration with Associate Professor Michael Tyler from the University of Adelaide's Department of Environmental Biology and other researchers, have isolated and identified up to 200 biologically active compounds from frog skin secretions. Many of these display antibiotic and anticancer properties.

"Amphibians have rich chemical arsenals in their skin glands that form an integral part of their defense system," Professor Bowie says.

The chemical compounds secreted from special glands on the back of the frog are believed to protect the animal against disease in addition to warding off predators.

Glandular secretions are obtained by electrical stimulation of the skin, rather than sacrificing animals, and this process can be repeated on a monthly basis allowing sufficient material for chemical analysis.

Professor Bowie's group has found that modification of some antibiotics isolated from frog skin secretions increases their potency. This may be of pharmaceutical interest as these compounds are active against a variety of pathogens resistant to currently used antibiotics.

"We believe amphibians use these peptides to regulate their own body functions and as defense agents against predators both large and small."

Professor Bowie is a previous winner of the E. H. Rennie, H.G. Smith and A.J. Birch medals of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

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