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Wednesday, 21 June  2006  Frog Sniffing

Frog expert Mike Tyler has made a startling discovery - different frogs have different smells.


PAUL MCCARTHY: When Mike Tyler took up sniffing frogs, his colleagues thought he was crazy. I think a bit of curry or peanut, maybe a peanut curry.

MIKE TYLER (ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY): God, you make do with mild curries, don't you? No, it is mown grass to me, freshly cut grass. Now this may sound a rather odd pastime, but whenever I picked up a frog I would notice that I could pick up an odour and I don't think I have got a particularly sensitive nose.

PAUL MCCARTHY: It wasn't that he enjoyed the smell or that he got some sort of high from it, he figured there is probably an interesting reason why nearly every species of frog when it is distressed lets off different odours.

MIKE TYLER: For example there is a peanut odour, there is cashew nuts, there is chocolate, there is mint, there is mown grass, there is one that smells absolutely foul like rotting rat or something of that kind.

This is a peanut. Why don't you try it yourself?

PAUL MCCARTHY: It smells more like popcorn to me.

MIKE TYLER: You eat funny tasting popcorn, that's for sure.

PAUL MCCARTHY: Rather than just a strange sensory experience, Associate Professor Tyler's team literally sniffed out some important meanings from these odours and in fact his time of bloodhounds this year won the Ig Nobel prize for biology, an award that recognises science projects that make you laugh before they make you think.

MIKE TYLER: I don't know what the prize is, it is probably a custard pie or something like that.

PAUL MCCARTHY: They began analysing the smells to discover whether some of the benefits they give frogs can be transferred to humans, and one of them appears to be as a mosquito repellent.

MIKE TYLER: I was in a swamp at 2 o'clock in the morning up to my waist in water, you know, the way you do, and I noticed that I was covered in mosquitos despite the fact that I had used all sorts of repellents before going in, whereas the frogs that were in the water and had a body temperature very similar to my own had none at all.

PAUL MCCARTHY: It set Mike Tyler to thinking that the frog must have a natural mosquito repellent and that led to this particular research program to find the chemical compounds behind the smells.

MIKE TYLER: One of them was a bird repellent that would obviously protect them at night against owls and another one and this material had been tested in New York, London and Paris to try and stop pigeons from pooping on parapets, PPP, that's right, and then there was another one which was a rodent repellent and so these were known chemicals it was just that the frog obviously thought of them first.

PAUL MCCARTHY: Winning the Ig Nobel prize has given Adelaide's frog lover even more international attention for his work. Mike Tyler says a frog's back is like a pharmaceutical laboratory and its studies have led to new antibiotics. He even has a provisional world patent on a glue that is found in this frog's skin. It is so strong it will stick cartilage together.

MIKE TYLER: So we are very hopeful that this compound when it has been at a state where it can be manufactured, because no one is going to be wondering around with frogs for surgical purposes, when it can be manufactured we are very hopeful that this extremely strong glue is going to provide surgeons with a totally new tool.

PAUL MCCARTHY: Professor Tyler is not finished yet, he says there is still plenty we can learn from the frog.

MIKE TYLER: You come up with the money, I will take you up into the Kimberley and I can guarantee we would find new species of frog, totally new designs that haven't been seen.



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English Bites - Frog Sniffing
story notes

took up
started an activity

Example: I took up swimming last year.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb take up, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: take up

make do
To make do is to manage with something that is not as good as is can be.

Example: When we played football as children we had to make do with an old plastic ball.

picked up
Here , the phrasal verb pick up simply means to take hold of something and lift it up. See below for what else it means in this sentence.

pick up
Here pick up means to notice or to detect.

Example: It took a while for the dogs to pick up the scent.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb pick up, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: pick up

odour
smell

lets off
releases a smell

Example: Lemons and limes let off a strong smell when you scratch them.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb let off, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: let off

like
We can use the word like to mean that two or more things are similar.

You eat funny tasting popcorn
They canít agree on what the frogs smell like .

won
Here win is the past tense of the irregular verb win. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: win

began
Began is the past tense of the irregular verb begin. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: begin

analysing
To analyse means to study or examine in detail.

mosquito repellent
A mosquito repellent keeps mosquitoes away.

led
Here led is the past tense of the irregular verb lead. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: lead

come up with
provide a sum of money

Example: I have to come up with a hundred dollars by tomorrow to pay the rent.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb come up with, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: come up with
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