IF ALL goes well, frogs may be credited for testing of illegal drug use among Olympic athletes.

Swedish researchers from Linköping University discovered that melanophores, melanin-containing cells on the skin of African frog Xenopus laevis, can be used in detecting the presence of prohibited drugs as reported by the March 3 issue of the New Scientist.

These cells, which can detect opiates such as heroin, morphine, and codeine are normally dark brown in color. These lighten in intensity and become colorless when exposed to sunlight and heat, as part of the frog’s camouflage.

Hormones released by the frog activate this process. They bind to the cell wall and trigger a reaction that moves pigment granules to the center of the cell, making the cell look colorless. But after the hormone detaches, the melanin granules disperse and make the cell appear dark again.

Scientists modified the cells by electrically puncturing the melanophores and inserted human DNA strands into it. The strands produce receptors where the opiates bind to. After culturing, the cells were transferred to small glass plates.

To find out if the cells really work, scientists used naloxone on the test plates afound that it caused an immediate disappearance in the melanophore color.

Naloxone is a drug used in drug rehabilitation programs that reduces opiate intoxication by strongly binding to the opiate receptor and blocking its actions on the brain, such as sedation and reduced pain sensation or analgesia.

Scientists said that this discovery will be useful in testing athletes who may be taking new types of opiate drugs since it can test any drug that acts like opiates. It can also detect chemical compounds from plant materials that contain opiate-like components that can be useful for drug research. Stephen Roy O. Chua-Rojas

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