The golden poison dart frog is about an inch long and banana yellow. By some estimates, the skin of one little frog contains enough toxin to kill 10 adult men.
“Oh yeah, it’s one of the more lethal poisons on the on the planet,” says Justin Du Bois, a synthetic chemist at Stanford University.
The substance is called batrachotoxin (buh-TRAK-uh-TOX-in), and tiny amounts of it can be deadly if it makes it into a victim’s bloodstream. It’s what some indigenous groups in Colombia’s lowland rain forest would use to tip their blow darts.
And, as Du Bois and his colleagues write Thursday in the journal Science, they figured out how to make it in the lab in 24 steps. Why on Earth would anyone want to do that?
“Well, it turns out it’s a fantastic research tool for figuring out how nerves conduct electricity,” Du Bois says, “and we’re very interested in that fundamental process.”
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Getty Images
Caption: The skin of the golden poison dart frog, Phyllobates terribilis, secretes a deadly poison that might lead to a better understanding of how to treat malfunctions of the human nervous system.