The tropical rainforest is an example of the diverse ecosystems that make up our planet. Living within the boundaries of these rainforests is a vast number of living organisms. Are there secrets hidden in the depths of the rainforest? By studying behaviors of its inhabitants, scientists have discovered interactions that may produce amazing and unforeseen consequences. One such interaction involves the poison dart frog. Not only is its secretion a defense mechanism against predators, but it is used by the Choco Indians of western Colombia to coat the tips of their blowgun darts for hunting. Sometimes poison is applied to self-inflicted burns to produce an hallucinogenic reaction; native hunters claim that the venom can produce a heightened sense of awareness. Could there be a connection between the poison dart frog and a cure for neurological and muscular disorders?
These holding tanks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland help researchers study the habits of poison dart frogs. Photo: Courtesy of Jeanne Gasiorowski.
Two researchers, John W. Daly, a molecular pharmacologist for the National Institutes of Health, and Charles W. Myers, a herpetologist with the American Museum of Natural History, have worked together for nearly thirty years to dissolve a portion of the barrier that exists between man and nature. They have surveyed frogs in South and Central America, discovered several new species of frogs, and have identified over 300 new alkaloids derived from the frog skins. Their goal is to isolate the biological effects of these alkaloids, bitter compounds most frequently found in plants, but also present in the toxin produced by frogs. Research has revealed unique effects of these alkaloids on nerve and muscle tissue, and certain types of these alkaloids have proven to be effective as anesthetics. It is suggested that one day a human life may be saved by a frog.
Time, however, is running out for researchers like Daly and Myers. As the destruction of the frogs' habitat continues, examples of these amphibians become harder to obtain. Laboratory research has revealed that the alkaloids cannot be exactly reproduced in laboratory situations. As tropical rainforests disappear, so do our chances of discovering new substances for the prevention of disease.
Do the advances in medical research outweigh the needs of the people struggling to survive in this developing country?
Visit this site for more information concerning medical research: Medical Research in Acre, Brazil. MedWeb - Tropical Medicine Sites.
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