Flu pandemics are a common fear among doctors, politicians, and public health experts, and for good reason: Swine flu, bird flu, every few years there’s a new and potentially deadly form of influenza that threatens to take us all out. But, thankfully, we might finally have a way to shut it down, and it’s all due to frogs. Well, at least one type of frog.
Hydrophylax bahuvistara, a frog from the South Indian peninsula has an odd quirk — it doesn’t get viral infections. Researchers suspected it had evolved some form of anti-viral compound, so they took some of the frog’s slime and found a peptide they’re calling urumin. Urumin attaches itself to hemagglutinin, the “H” in terms like H1N1. Hemagglutinin, in the flu, binds the flu virus to a cell and helps it insert the viral genome into your body. Urumin basically makes it impossible for the virus to attach or reproduce, so it simply dies.
Right now, urumin doesn’t last long in the body, and it only works, at the moment, on H1 flu strains. It also needs to be tested on humans, although the animal trials are promising. Then again, H1 strains are two of the three strains commonly found in humans, and H1N1 caused the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918.
If we can get urumin working long-term in humans, or spin out other drugs from it, that would allow faster reaction against the spread of the flu, possibly preventing an epidemic. So, if a few years from now you pop a pill at the first signs of a sick co-worker, take a moment to thank the frogs.