Frog Pharming

Part of the Frogs: A Chorus of Colors exhibition.


 © Taran Grant/AMNH

Phantasmal Poison Frog, Epipedobates tricolor: A chemical from this frog is about 200 times more potent than morphine in laboratory tests. Researchers are hoping to mimic its effects to develop medicines to block pain.

The 80 or so poison dart frog species in Central and South America contain more than 300 different skin chemicals called alkaloids. When an attacker bites the frog, the toxins cause reactions ranging from mild numbness to paralysis and death. Ironically, the mechanism involved could lead to a better life for some people. Borrowing from nature, scientists use these alkaloids extensively in pharmacological research and as chemical templates to develop drugs to treat extreme pain.