A frog is worth kissing: a natural defense against the toxin from the red tide found in bullfrogs

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A photographic illustration showing the atomic structures of saxiphilin and saxitoxin, a flowering of red tide algae and an American bullfrog (R. catesbeiana).

A photographic illustration showing the atomic structures of saxiphilin and saxitoxin, a flowering of red tide algae and an American bullfrog (R. catesbeiana). (Credit: Daniel L. Minor, Jr. and Deborah Stalford / Berkeley Lab)

A team led by the biochemist of the faculty of Berkeley Lab, Daniel Minor, discovered how a protein produced by the bullfrog binds and inhibits the action of saxitoxin, the deadly neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates that causes poisoning by paralytic molluscs.

The results, published this week a Scientific progress, could lead to the first antidote for the compound, which blocks nerve signaling in animal muscles, causing death by asphyxiation if consumed in sufficient quantities.

"Sassitoxin is among the most lethal natural poisons and is the only marine toxin that has been declared a chemical weapon," said Minor, who is also a professor at the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute. About a thousand times more potent than cyanide, saxitoxin accumulates in tissues and can therefore go up the food chain – from molluscs that eat microbes to fish, turtles, marine mammals and us.

Minori and his colleagues clarified the mechanism of the protective protein, called saxiphilin, by mapping the atomic structure of saxitoxin-free saxifilin and saxitoxin using high-resolution X-ray crystallography performed at the Berkeley Lab Advanced Light Source .

"Climate change is making toxic algae blooms more frequent," Minor said. "Understanding how frogs have developed molecules that help them resist toxic environments holds important lessons that could help us have a ready defense."

To learn more about this research, read the complete article on UCSF.

/ Public release. View in full Here.

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