Sex chemical find raises hope of cane toad breakthrough

Friday, 29 October 1999

An Adelaide University researcher has raised hopes of a breakthrough in the war against cane toads with his discovery of a frog sex chemical.

Paul Wabnitz, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry, has generated international attention after establishing that the male magnificent tree frog excretes a chemical substance - a sex pheromone - to attract sexual partners.

His isolation of the chemical is the first confirmation that a sex pheromone exists in frogs. If a similar substance can be found in cane toads, it could be used as a weapon to trap or confuse them or to disrupt their breeding cycle.

The findings are the result of a series of research projects being carried out jointly under the supervision of Professor John Bowie of the Department of Chemistry and Associate Professor Mike Tyler, Department of Environmental Biology.

Mr Wabnitz, whose findings are published in the current issue of the journal Nature, has now begun examining cane toad secretions.

"There's a possibility that cane toads also excrete a sex pheromone," he said. "It took me three years to find the sex pheromone in the tree frog, mainly because I had to look at secretions over several breeding seasons."

Mr Wabnitz said his discovery of the tree frog sex pheromone was a by-product of his main PhD research into the medical implications of novel amphibian peptides. (Peptides are smaller versions of proteins).

Prelimary test results have shown that some peptides have anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties, raising widespread interest in the research. Professor Bowie is now collaborating with the National Cancer Institute in Washington DC to further examine the results.

This month, Mr Wabnitz will travel to the United States at the invitation of a major pharmaceutical company which is interested in his work.


Contact Details

Mr Paul Wabnitz
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: +61 8 8347 2888

Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762