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TalkTime: Why Frogs Matter

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
July 2017
TalkTime: Why Frogs Matter

 

Effective antiviral drugs are always in demand, given the serious challenges posed by influenza outbreaks. Professor Jacob Joshy, a leading immunologist at Emory University, has found promise in an unexpected source: frogs. Explaining how he made the discovery, he highlights another argument for wilderness preservation and biodiversity conservation.

What prompted your interest in microbiology and immunology?
I got interested in immunology because of its potential in curing diseases, and did a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. I always wanted to do a Ph.D. as I wanted to be a teacher like my grandfather.

What has your path to Emory been like?
I first did a B.Sc. from India and then came to do a B.S. in Medical Technology from the University of Texas, followed by a Ph.D. from University of Maryland. After finishing my Ph.D., I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and spent six years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore. I joined Emory in 1999 and have been here ever since. Joining Emory University was one of the best decisions I made in my life. It has been good for my professional growth.

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Your latest research project gets its source from frogs. What potential do you see there and how does it work?
We sourced an antiviral peptide from the skin of frogs. The frog makes this peptide along with others to protect itself from pathogens in its niche, those it encounters in its environment. It just so happens that one of the peptides cross-neutralizes or kills influenza viruses. The peptide kills all influenza viruses of the H1 type.

Of all the natural objects in the world, what made you look at frogs?
It’s been known for a long time that frogs are resistant to infections. In ancient Ayurveda scriptures, frog skin was used in wound healing. This is because the frog’s skin has short peptides, which have the ability to fight and kill microbes such as bacteria. We identified one that can kill influenza viruses. This peptide is also efficient against drug-resistant influenza viruses. Frogs are an excellent source of antimicrobial peptides. Also, I have a collaborator, Dr. Sanil George, at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Kerala who studies them and has isolated a library of these peptides.

What is the biggest challenge you’re hoping to solve with your work?
So far, the work on frog peptides has gone on smoothly. But the next step—figuring out how to formulate and deliver this peptide for treatment—is a huge challenge, but we are confident we can overcome it.

What do you mean by formulate?
I mean that we have to make it into a “pill” form so that we can use it for treatment of influenza virus infections.

What lessons can the average person take away from your work?
Eco-conservation and preventing species from going extinct is vitally important as we never know where the next big cure will come from.

Work in the lab requires infinite patience and hard work. What advice do you have for those who want to pursue a career like yours?
Read widely, be on top of the scientific literature and, above all, persevere and work hard. If you want six-pack abs like Salman Khan, you need to put in the work.


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Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor. Learn more at WordCumulus.WordPress.com.



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