Conservation and Medicine
Bioprospecting: Looking for viable sources of organisms for potential cures
Since the rise of research in the coral reefs, environmentalists, researchers, and enteurprenurs have clashed because of their different values. In the past, invertebrates were taken largely at random from reefs, often in huge quantities. For example, in one report a U.S. bioprospecting group collected 1,600 kg of a sea hare to isolate 10 mg of a compound used to fight melanoma. Another group collected 2,400 kg of an Indo-Pacific sponge to produce 1 mg of an anticancer compound. Yet, as much as 1 kg of a bioactive metabolite may ultimately be required for drug development. This heavy reliance on coral reef resources worldwide has resulted in the overexploitation and degradation of many reefs.
Factors Limiting Bioprospecting
- The high cost and technical difficulties of identifying and obtaining marine samples, the need for novel screening technologies and techniques to maximize recovery of bioactive compounds, and difficulties in identifying a sustainable source or an organism for clinical development and commercial production are among the primary factors limiting marine bioprospecting activities.
- Targeting a promising compound is only the first step; a renewable source for the compound must also be established before a new drug can be developed.
A Combination of Interests: The Advancement of Medicine and the Conservation of Coral Reefs
- Researchers in the Bahamas identified a class of natural products, Pseduopterosins, from a Gorgonian coral (Pseudoterigorgia elisabethae) that have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. With help from the U.S.-funded National Sea Grant College Programs, the population biology of the species was examined in detail, with relevant information applied toward development of a management plan for sustainable harvest. This has allowed researchers to obtain sufficient supplies over a 15-year period without devastating local populations. By ensuring an adequate supply, this effort ultimately led to the purification of a product now used as a topical agent in an Estee Lauder skin care product, Resilience.
Resource: Great Barrier Reef- Dr. Joe Baker (AIMS)
- Millions of marine sponges dot the floors of the Great Barrier Reef. These sponges have hundreds of miniscule pores which contain microalgae and bacteria. These species of bacteria and microalgae are yielding pharmaceutical drugs ranging from hypertension drugs to antibiotics.
- Conservation + Medical Research
1. Before taking samples of certain species from the Great Barrier Reef, scientists must scan one square kilometer areas of the Great Barrier Reef to assess the number of the particular organism in that certain area. If only one or two organisms are found in a one square kilometer area, then scientists must find another source.
2. For research purposes, a very small quantity of a certain substance is usually needed.