Hayes' research has implications for conservation and public health. According to an article in the May 2001 National Geographic magazine, a serious decline in the population of frogs signals something is amiss in the natural world.
Many hormones found in frogs are similar, and in some cases identical, to human hormones. Chemicals that affect hormonal development in frogs could have implications for human health.
Hormones in frogs orchestrate their development from egg to tadpole, and the metamorphosis from tadpole to adult frog. During metamorphosis, frogs are very sensitive to changes in their environment, including chemicals in the water or their food supply.
Hayes said the extraordinary sensitivity of the frogs' skin means that one day it may be possible to use these amphibians as a cost-effective way to detect the presence of chemicals in water used by humans.
"Many chemicals mimic hormones in their effect on frogs," Hayes said. "We've found that tadpoles show developmental changes in water that has contaminants fifty times lower than what's allowed to be in drinking water in the United States. That's an indication of the ability of frogs to detect pollution in the environment. If chemicals in such low concentrations can impact amphibians, it may be an indication that mammals also may be affected."
"This is exciting research," said Huey. "Tyrone Hayes has discovered that the color of adult frogs is altered by exposure to low levels of toxicants in water.
"But what is so brilliant is Tyrone's realization that this seemingly simple observation can be applied in developing countries as an almost cost-free 'biossay' of pollution," Huey added. "Merely raise some frogs in local water, look at the resultant adults, and one immediately knows whether certain pollutants might be a concern."
These people were among the latest recipients of grants from National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration:
Cuban-born Lourdes Rodriguez Schettino received a grant for her research on Cuban amphibians and reptiles.
Croatian anthropologist Ivor Karavanic will conduct paleolithic archaeological research in Dalmatia, Croatia.
U.K. native Laurence Packer, based in Canada, will continue field work in Chile on bee conservation genetics.
Astronomer Jay Pasachoff will study the solar corona from Zambia during the June 2001 solar eclipse.
Anriano Garcia Chiarello, a Brazilian, will assess the success of translocation experiments of sloths in Brazil.
Polish-born Leszek Karczmarski will conduct behavioral observations of spinner dolphins in the coastal waters of Hawaii.
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