Questions for ‘Finding new uses for nature’s poisons’

African clawed frogs

The skin of these African clawed frogs contains germ-killing chemicals that help them heal, even when their water is not sterile.

Muffet/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 2.0)

To accompany feature “Finding new uses for nature’s poisons


Before reading:

1.    Name three plants, animals or other organisms that are poisonous. What would happen if you touched that organism? What would happen if you ate it?

2.    Why would an organism like a flower or a frog be poisonous? What types of benefits would the poison offer the organism?

During reading:

1.    Where do poison dart frogs get their poisons?

2.    What is the difference between a toxin and a venom?

3.    How are antimicrobial peptides different from antibiotic drugs?

4.    What is nisin, and where does it come from?

5.    Why is the skin of most poison dart frogs brightly colored?

6.    How are scientists searching for a way to control red imported fire ants, based on this story?

7.    Why does effective control of these ants require a slow-acting poison?

8.    Name three ways spider venom might one day help human health, based on what you read in this story.

9.    How does the tarantula peptide work to combat malaria?

10.  Why might there be an advantage to a rapid breakdown of Versitude, a new pesticide, in the environment?

After reading:

1.    There are plenty of diseases for which medicine needs new drugs and cures. Could natural toxins be the solution for all of them? Explain your reasoning.

2.    Scientists have tested about 1,000 spider venom peptides and found only a few that might be useful. This type of research costs a lot of money. Should researchers continue testing the millions more peptides that exist? Explain why or why not.



1.    Using information from the story, calculate the percentage of poison dart frog alkaloids that Robert Vander Meer tested in his search for a chemical that would control red imported fire ants.