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ScienceShot: Toads Keep Their Brains Germ-Free

Handling toads won't give you warts; in fact, it just might clean your hands. Although scientists have long known that the skin of fire-bellied toads contains a variety of small antimicrobial proteins, or peptides, researchers have now found that the amphibians' brains harbor a vast array of these germ killers as well. By performing genetic analyses and mass spectrometry on ground-up toad brains, the researchers found 79 different antimicrobial peptides—the widest variety ever seen in the brain of any animal. When the researchers tested the peptides out on bacteria, viruses, and fungi, some of them turned out to be very powerful germ killers. Their purpose, the researchers propose in the Journal of Proteome Research this month, is to protect toads from any pathogens that can get through the blood-brain barrier. No word yet on whether a toad-brain based hand soap is in the works.

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