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Severe is Antibiotic Resistance?
Ocean Facts and Tips
Doctors and patients around the world are concerned about increasing numbers
of antibiotic-resistant germs and new diseases.
But, as this ScienCentral News video reports, ocean scientists have found an
unlikely new source of many drugs—deep ocean mud.
Help from the Sea
Antibiotics have worked so well at helping us fight off infectious diseases
that they have changed the way diseases are treated. But now, because of overuse,
misuse, and a growing number of antibiotic-resistant germs, the “wonder”
seems to be wearing off these “wonder drugs.” Making matters worse,
new sources of antibiotics, which typically come from tiny organisms that
live in terrestrial soil, began to dwindle about ten years ago.
Fenical, Director of the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine
at the Scripps Institution
of Oceanography, has found a potential new source of antibiotics, as well
as anti-cancer and anti-fungal medicines—microscopic mud-dwelling organisms
from the deep sea.
“Weâ€™ve gone out into the ocean and began to sample those deep ocean
environments,” explains Fenical, “bringing those deep ocean mud
samples into the laboratory, investigating what is present in those samples,
and isolating brand new forms of microorganisms that have never been seen
before.” Fenical found that many of these microorganisms could make
new drugs—like antibiotics, anti-cancer agents and anti-fungal agents—that
he and his colleagues are now attempting to develop. He has yet to test the
microorganisms for anti-viral agents.
Fenical has already found over 5,000 new microorganisms. Of the hundreds he
has tested so far, more than 30 percent show promise as antibiotics and anti-fungals,
and over 80 percent have anti-cancer potential. He has already isolated one
potential new anti-cancer agent, called Salinosporamide A, from the variety
of deep ocean microbes he has found. “These microorganisms exist in
very high quantities in deep ocean muds, and theyâ€™re exactly the same
types of microorganisms that have provided antibiotics for the pharmaceutical
industry for the last 60 years.”
Until now, the ocean floor remained unexplored in terms of its potential to
yield biomedical advances. “The most important thing weâ€™ve learned
is the ocean—and itâ€™s the deep parts of the ocean—contain
microorganisms that were never conceived to exist before,” says Fenical.
“What weâ€™ve learned is that by creating new approaches, new scientific
methods, we can now culture microorganisms that produce new antibiotics, new
Fenical believes that the oceansâ€™ mud holds potential weapons to battle
many diseases. “Currently, weâ€™re looking for antibiotics and anti-cancer
drugs, because these are some of the most pressing needs, but other applications
in neuropharmacology—treating Parkinsonâ€™s disease or Alzheimerâ€™s
disease, heart diseases, and so on—are also quite possible.”
Considering that 70 percent of the surface of the planet is made up of oceans,
the potential for new drugs seems almost limitless. “Certainly, the
discovery of antibiotics a very long time ago has created a wonderful extension
of life for humankind, and also made the quality of our lives far better.
So this is a whole new resource for those types of microorganisms to produce
drugs for the pharmaceutical industry and to help extend and preserve the
quality of human life.”
Fenicalâ€™s work has been published in the October 2002 issue of Applied
Environmental Microbiology, and the January 2003 issue of the international
edition of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, and is funded by
the National Science Foundation,
the National Cancer Institute, the University
of California BioSTAR
Project, and the Khaled
Bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.