Marine ‘treasure trove’ to revolutionise medicine
Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new proteins.world Updated: Nov 12, 2012 00:18 IST
Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new proteins.
Researchers have already created new enzymes for treating sewage and chemicals for making soaps from material they have found in ocean organisms.
“The potential for marine biotechnology is almost infinite,” said Curtis Suttle, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. However, the discovery of the ocean’s biological riches, including thousands of new sponges, bacteria and viruses, also raises worries about the damage that could ensue from the new science of marine biotechnology.
In particular, scientists worry that precious sources, including hydrothermal vents where bacteria and simple plants thrive in water above boiling point, could be damaged or destroyed in a free-for-all rush to exploit these wonders.
In addition, major worries focus on developing nations whose waters contain rich sources of marine life that could be exploited by western chemical companies. On land, patents can provide protection for products derived from local animals or plants. In the sea, where currents carry fish, sponges and microbes from place to place, such protection could be far trickier to enforce.
Sponges have turned out to be a promising marine resource. The sponge Tethya crypta, has been found to contain chemicals that have anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. Similarly, the cancer drug Halaven was derived from sponges of the Halichondria family.
However, only a handful of drugs derived from marine sources have been approved by the US FDA so far.