The Loh Down On Science

You won't believe how doctors used to tell if a woman was pregnant!

Image courtesy of Introduced Species Summary Project, Columbia University.

A South African clawed frog.

To see if you’re pregnant . . . pee on a frog?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

It started like this:  Early in the twentieth century, doctors made a surprising discovery:  South African clawed frogs could be used to tell if a woman was pregnant.  If you injected some of the woman's urine into the frog, and the little hopper then laid eggs?  Ding ding ding ding:  The woman was expecting!  That's because her urine contains a pregnancy hormone that also triggers froggy fertility.

Who needs to pee on a stick when you've got a frog, right?

So until the 1970s, the frogs were transported all over the world in an amphibian pregnancy-test trade craze!  But some clawed frogs came with baggage.  They harbored a fungus called "BD."

Researchers from San Francisco say the fungal infection stayed stable in frog populations in Africa.  But once the pregnancy-testing frogs became world travelers?  BD fungus may have proved lethal to some 200 other frog species the African hoppers met.  Meaning global trade may be responsible for the current worldwide BD epidemic.

Poor froggies.  Just another reason for ladies to . . . pee on sticks.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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