Voyager: Are natural compounds scientists are studying being found in the water itself, or are they being collected from some other part of the ocean?


The compounds that Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego researchers are using in their quest to find marine biomedicines are found in different areas of the ocean. Some compounds are found in bacteria that live in the seawater and others live in ocean sediments.

Researchers have traveled around the world to remote locations such as Fiji and the Philippines, to their own ocean backyard in La Jolla, Calif., to find potentially useful microorganisms. Compounds have been found miles down on the seafloor and also at much shallower depths.

Most of the microorganisms found in the ocean are very different from those on land.  Since the microorganisms on land have been studied for more than 50 years, scientists tend to find a lot of compounds that have already been discovered. The oceans, however, have only been explored for useful bacteria for a few decades and many of the compounds being found from these bacteria are brand new.

Researchers believe the compounds they’re studying for medicinal purposes are created in nature for a variety of reasons. For instance, bacteria might produce chemical compounds to compete with other bacteria in their environment. Tons of bacteria are found throughout the world’s oceans. In fact, more than one million bacteria can be found in less than a spoonful of seawater!

Scripps scientists are hoping that some of these compounds will someday become new medicines to combat drug-resistant diseases. To determine if these molecules will be effective, researchers must first grow the bacteria in their labs to see if they make useful compounds.


-- Paul Jensen, microbial ecologist, Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine

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