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Image of the Week: Xenopus

22 Aug, 2014

C0011036 Xenopus

Move over Paul the Octopus, this friendly looking creature can tell if you’re pregnant or not…

.. well, sort of. This week’s image is of a Xenopus, a type of aquatic frog native to southern Africa, which was used in pregnancy testing.

In the 1930s it was discovered that injecting a woman’s urine into a live female Xenopus could test if the woman was pregnant. If the urine contained the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin, it prompted the female frog to ovulate, so if the frog laid eggs, it was confirmation of pregnancy.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, it was common practice in the UK to send urine samples to pregnancy-testing laboratories where this test was performed.

Xenopus, more commonly known as the African clawed frog, has slippery smooth skin, the result of a mucus antibiotic coating, which results in incredible healing properties for the frog. The back legs are webbed making them powerful swimmers, a handy attribute when you spend pretty much all of your time in the water.

No longer used as a living pregnancy test, these frogs can still be found in life science laboratories around the world. Xenopus leavis is used as a model organism and has played an important role in helping scientists better understand developmental biology.

As well as being used in research around the globe, Xenopus has made it into space. Embryos were first taken to the Russian space station Salyut, and further research involved successful fertilisation of eggs in space, and experiments on the International Space Station, where the affect of microgravity on development could be studied.

Image credit: Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.


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