April 18 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered a flu-fighting compound in the skin mucus secreted by a colorful South Indian frog species.
Emory University School of Medicine coaxed the skin slime from frogs by shocking Hydrophylax bahuvistara specimens with a small jolt of electricity. In the lab, researchers isolated molecules from the secretion and tested them on human blood cells infected with various flu virus strains.
One of the molecules, urumin, successfully killed several viral strains, as well as a number of harmful microbes. The research -- detailed in the journal Immunity -- showed the molecule attacks hemagglutinin, the glycoprotein that binds the virus to cells. Other antiviral medications attack different parts of the virus.
Unlike other peptides with antiviral properties, urumin is not toxic to human cells and concentrates its destructive forces on pathogens.
It's likely the urumin has capabilities beyond fighting the flu, as frogs aren't vulnerable to the flu.
"The frogs secrete this peptide almost certainly to combat some pathogen in [their] niche," lead researcher Joshy Jacob told Gizmodo. "The flu virus most likely shares a common motif with whatever the peptide is targeted to."
In lab tests, scientists found a small dose of urumin, delivered through the nose, protected unvaccinated mice against several flu strains.
Researchers are now working on developing urumin into a medicine that remains stable in the human body. Scientists are also searching for frog-derived peptides that could be used to combat other pathogens like the Zika virus.