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Scientists Search Deep Sea Reefs for Wonder Drugs 144

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the 2,000-leagues-from-now-captain dept.
ScienceDaily is reporting that a team of scientists will be venturing some 2000-3000 feet below the ocean surface in order to explore deep-sea reefs discovered last December. From the article: "A primary goal of the upcoming expedition, which is funded largely by the State of Florida's 'Florida Oceans Initiative,' will be to search for marine organisms that produce chemical compounds with the potential to treat human diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's."
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Scientists Search Deep Sea Reefs for Wonder Drugs

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:36AM (#15386232) Journal
    First off, this isn't really 'news' as it is an alarm. When a new coral reef is discovered, we aren't sending people to look for new species or attempting to preserve it ... instead we're sending people to take samples to see if we can benefit medically from the reef.

    Modern man has an impeccable record for destroying the natural environment that produces his fruits & resources. Then we sit and bitch about how it went away. Reefs are probably going to be no different. They're harder to get at, but if the run-off doesn't destroy them, I'm sure our medical companies will [eurekalert.org].

    There's a report [unu.edu] written by the UN University that details the problems being raised by this treasure of "blue gold."
    Significantly, the ratio of potentially useful natural compounds to compounds screened is higher in marinesourced materials than with terrestrial organisms. There is, therefore, a higher probability of commercial success. Potential applications for marine organisms include: pharmaceuticals; enzymes; cryoprotectants; cosmaceuticals; agrichemicals; bioremediators; nutraceuticals; and fine chemicals. All the major pharmaceutical firms, including Merck, Lilly, Pfizer, Hoffman-Laroche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, have marine biology departments. Estimates put worldwide sales of marine biotechnology-related products at US$ 100 billion for the year 2000. Profits from a compound derived from a sea sponge to treat herpes were estimated to be worth US$ 50 million to US$ 100 million annually, and estimates of the value of anti-cancer agents from marine organisms are up to US$ 1 billion a year.
    One of the interesting sources it cites is Blue Genes: Sharing and Conserving the World's Aquatic Biodiversity [www.idrc.ca] (another interesting document on the global problem of sharing the world's oceans).

    Hypothetical scenario time! So, Pfizer's scientists find that a fairly common sponge produces a natural chemical that slows the growth of cancer. Unfortunately, each sponge only produces an ounce of this chemical when refined and there is no way to naturally synthesize it on a mass scale. Pfizer tries to buy the rights to harvest the sponge at a restricted rate in Florida. But they have to get permits from the local, state & federal governments and it costs them a lot of money because they send people down to the reef to hand pick the sponges. Instead, they find a supplier in a third world country (possibly around Indonesia) that promises them mass quantities of the sponge at a reduced rate. Now, the government there forbids it too but an official receives a large sum from this company and suddenly Pfizer has got incoming shipments of the sponge. The problem is that the company working for Pfizer is doing so with total blatant disregard for the ecosystem & probably its workers.

    A farfetched scenario? Or something that's happened so often in the past, we'd be naïve to imagine it to stop here?
    • Any chemical that can be synthesized biologically should be perfectly capable of being synthesized in-vitro. Any protein can be cloned and synthesized en masse. This scenario isn't very realistic, and smacks of ultra-enviromentalist garbage... like anti-GM-crop people.
      • by fain0v (257098)
        Even if you could sythesize anything that nature can make, there isnt enough matter in the universe to make every small molecule that might be of interest to medicinal chemists. So how do you screen out the useless molecules and find ones that might have an effect on a druggable target? You use millions of years of evolution to your advantage and isolate compounds made by organisms. These "natural products" can be used to do high-throughput screening on your drug target.

        Here is a lab that does this.
        http [umich.edu]
      • by archeopterix (594938) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:45AM (#15386618) Journal
        Any chemical that can be synthesized biologically should be perfectly capable of being synthesized in-vitro.
        Synthesized in-vitro? Perhaps.

        Synthesized in-vitro on a commercial scale? Look at Taxol [wikipedia.org]. It took over 20 years to design a commercially viable synthesis method.

        Galanthamine? [wikipedia.org] To my knowledge, no commercially viable method exists.

        • Now that we're beginning to understand genomics, it's becoming a lot easier to synthesize complex biomolecules. If we can identify the genes that are involved in making the proteins that go into how certain organisms produce a particular compound, we can modify those genes, put them in a particular order, then place those same genes into a bacterium and let nature do our dirty work for us! ;-)
        • I noticed the wiki article on Taxol doesn't mention that Bristol-Myers Squibb paid the NCI, National Institute of Cancer, less than the NCI spent developing Taxol. Having paid little for the rights to exclusive use of the Taxol data, MBS has made billions of dollars off of Taxol.

          Falcon
      • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:47AM (#15386626) Journal
        "Any chemical that can be synthesized biologically should be perfectly capable of being synthesized in-vitro."

        Should be != is. Particularly since development of the process for complex compunds can be extrmely expensive.

        "Any protein can be cloned and synthesized en masse."

        Protein folding is still a tricky business for a lot of proteins, and not necessarily reproducible in a lab. Plus, you've got to isolate the gene(s) responsible for the protein production, successfully insert them into bacteria or yeast to produce a viable colony, and then ferment them. By no means automatic. It's not a simple matter of 'cloning' a protein.

        Cost is also a huge issue. As the GP alludes to, the availability of a cheap supply will often preclude synthetic production -- regardless of whether that supply is truly cheap in the long run (i.e., in his example, the public value of the reefs/natural sponges in the environment is not included in the cost equation for the drug company).

        Sure, as the natural supply becomes more limited, it gets more expensive, and synthesis of the compound becomes an economically viable alternative for the company. But in the meanwhile, overharvesting of a natural resource can have pretty dire consequences.
        • You've got to isolate the gene(s) responsible for the protein production, successfully insert them into bacteria or yeast to produce a viable colony, and then ferment them. By no means automatic. It's not a simple matter of 'cloning' a protein.
          You just described the simple matter of "cloning", as it's used in the laboratory sense. It is, in fact, quite simple.

          - A friendly neighborhood molecular biologist
          • Simple in theory, not always so in practice -- cloning of peptide sequences starts getting rough at around 30 peptides, IIRC -- though likely most drug products would be small. Also, we're looking at a commercial scale here. Plus the fact that proteins are a poor structure for most drugs, due to the delivery mechanism (IV or IM injection only, with rare exceptions), storage requirements, lability, etc.

            So really, the bigger concern should be how to produce non-peptide drugs, which are not always so easy t
      • Any chemical that can be synthesized biologically should be perfectly capable of being synthesized in-vitro. Any protein can be cloned and synthesized en masse. This scenario isn't very realistic, and smacks of ultra-enviromentalist garbage... like anti-GM-crop people.

        This statement is categorically untrue. Tamiflu is made from an element of Chinese star anise. [wikipedia.org] Are you surprised by the fact that 90% of the Chinese star anise in the world is used to make Tamiflu? Imagine if Chinese star anise is rarer than i

        • This statement is categorically untrue. Tamiflu is made from an element of Chinese star anise. Are you surprised by the fact that 90% of the Chinese star anise in the world is used to make Tamiflu? Imagine if Chinese star anise is rarer than it is.

          The same Wikipedia article says that a complete synthesis protocol was developed this year. Like for Taxol, it took a while but proved possible. And happened much faster than Taxol, probably showing the effect of improving organic chemistry science and tools.

          I fin

          • The wiki article says no such thing. From the article:

            "Although it is produced in most autotrophic organisms, star anise is the industrial source of shikimic acid, a primary ingredient used to create the anti-flu drug Tamiflu. Tamiflu is regarded as the most promising drug to mitigate the severity of bird flu (H5N1); however, reports indicate that some forms of the virus have already adapted to Tamiflu.

            A shortage of star anise is one of the key reasons why there is a worldwide shortage of Tamiflu (as of 200
          • I find it surprising, though, that both syntheses came out of academic labs - not from the pharmaceutical companies that sell the drugs. You'd think they'd have enormous incentive, and more than enough resources, to do such work themselves. If they aren't interested in actually making drugs, what exactly is it that they do?

            It's cheaper for the pharmaceutical companies to let government and univserities to do the research then to come in and buy the drug. Taxol, a cancer drug previously mentioned, is a g

    • The problem is that the company working for Pfizer is doing so with total blatant disregard for the ecosystem & probably its workers.

      I'm the last person to make apologies for some company, but I'd like to think they're probably smart enough to not kill the golden goose. If they're making billions of dollars from reef extracts, it wouldn't do them any good to destroy the reef and lose that potential source of profits.

      Of course, I could be wrong.. they could decide that they'll destroy the reef at a rate
      • I'd say that the reef would be destroyed at a rate calculated to coincide with patent expiration.
      • Ever heard of factory ships like the Atlantic Harvester? They're busy doing to the West African coast what the Canadians did to the Grand Banks. But they're handing out money to the relevant African countries, and the leaders of those countries don't care that a few fishermen are going to lose their livelihoods, never mind caring about the environment and what's down there.

        In my own back yard, we've got another classic. For the last 10-15 years, scientists have been telling the EU that cod stocks in the
      • Of course, I could be wrong.. they could decide that they'll destroy the reef at a rate that will take 100 years (or 50, or 10) and decide that's a good window of time to make a huge profit...

        I think you're dead-on. Having worked with large-company execs (and wannabe-execs) I can tell that
        the amount of greed and sheer ignorance that it apparently takes to get into such a position and the resulting ruthlessness should not be underestimated.

        The droids that I was unfortunate to deal with were kind of mindlocke
    • Your entire fifth paragraph falls apart logically. Use the northwestern yew as an example. Extremely rare species which supplies a useful anticancer compound. Were they harvested to extinction? No. Were they replaced by other yews from around the world? No. Why? It is that species which has the compound. Your paragraph falls apart historically. Which, ironically, is the very rational you use to promote it. Odd, that.
      • Your entire fifth paragraph falls apart logically. Use the northwestern yew as an example. Extremely rare species which supplies a useful anticancer compound. Were they harvested to extinction? No. Were they replaced by other yews from around the world? No. Why? It is that species which has the compound. Your paragraph falls apart historically. Which, ironically, is the very rational you use to promote it. Odd, that.

        Actually a species of the yew tree has been found to at least augment if not replace the

    • Actually usually the people going are going because they want to explore the stuff and usually are most interested in it's biology and how to preserve it. The whole medicine thing is how you get funding.
    • I would personally kill every animal on the planet if it would prevent me from catching a cold.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      While some of your comments are rational, some of them don't apply to these particular reefs.

      They are 2-3km deep -- coastal runoff is largely irrelevant, and they aren't going to be hand-collected by divers.

      On the more negative side, the life at these locations probably grows very, very, very slowly (low temperature, low nutrient supply), and would be easy to damage or destroy. However, ordinary fishing operations in the vicinity of these deep sea reefs already do *immense* damage in some parts of the worl
    • eldavojohn (898314) surmises, "Modern man has an impeccable record for destroying the natural environment that produces his fruits & resources."

      What is amazing is that even as modern man harvests his latest wonder drugs from the environment, he simultaneously wrecks it by (1) dumping chemicals into the seas, (2) burning the rain forests, etc.

      One of the key forces spurring the destruction of the environment is population growth. Expanding populations need living space: in a battle between human popu

      • One of the key forces spurring the destruction of the environment is population growth. Expanding populations need living space: in a battle between human population and mother nature, the human population always wins. Indeed, Consider the recent attempt [usatoday.com] to add immigration-control to the platform of the Sierra Club: immigration-control would curb the population growth of the United States. The attempt completely failed because no one cares about the environmental destruction that population

    • Relatively far-fetched, I would say. Look at the fluorescent proteins that probably make up most of that cited $100 billion per year (in 2000) for marine-biotechnology derived products. Very few people would use "wild type" fluorescent proteins for research, as these are not very efficient for our purposes. Instead researchers have developed the original jellyfish or coral proteins in entire families of mutated proteins with desirable fluorescent and other properties -- similar in structure, but a small cha
  • Cancer (Score:1, Informative)

    by PrivateDonut (802017)
    Sorry, but cancer isn't a disease... its a mutation. You can't cure mutations, only give your body the ability to remove the mutated cells.
    • Re:Cancer (Score:3, Informative)

      but cancer isn't a disease... its a mutation.

      Are you sure? Disease [reference.com]:

      1. A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms.

      2. A condition or tendency, as of society, regarded as abnormal and harmful.

      • Apparently, a lot of people tend to associate "disease" purely with illnesses directly caused by bacteria, virus, or protozoan...
    • In most cases of cancer(as I recall it it's about 70%), it is found that the protein p53 is in someway defect. p53 is the protein responsible for during a "checksum" of the DNA string, and is damaged instruct the cell to repair its DNA or undergo apoptosis.
      The damage to the p53 can, amongst other things, be caused by disease.
    • by TerranFury (726743) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:38AM (#15386573)

      Actually, you'd be surprised. Nothing gets into your cells and screws up your DNA like a virus.

      Have you heard of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)? It's a very-common (family) of sexually-transmitted viruses. We've known for a long time that certain types of HPV are the cause of cervical and ovarian cancer in women and testicular cancer in men (e.g.: these cancers are STDs), and more recent research has shown that HPV is also linked to certain forms of skin cancer.

      In other words: Yes, cancer can be and often is caused by infectious diseases!

  • Hopefully, it won't be like...

    The rainforest(s).

    Lots of potential, but wasted.
  • by Dr.Enormous (651727) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:42AM (#15386259)
    If you read biology journals, you'll see that just about every third or fourth paper consists of "we pureed some sea sponge in a blender and extracted this compound. And look, it kills cancer cells (*cough* and non-cancerous cells too *cough*)!" The only thing different here is a somewhat deeper venue for collection. (this isn't to say that it's not important scientific work, just that it's rather commonplace and rarely leads to much of anything)
    • It certainly reeks of someone's pet project. I cannot imagine that everything between our current elevation and the spot they chose has been thoroughly investigated and that this is our last bastion of naturally occurring medicines.

      If someone were to do a cost analysis on this, I'm betting they could fund several, if not tens of similar projects on dry land. Having said that, it's not likely you will get shot or kidnapped while searching in the depths of the ocean as oppose to wandering about in the jungles
    • Coming from the deliberately-synthesized school of chemistry, I was surprised when I sat on a PhD committee recently, and asked the student what the sponge did with the chemical she was discussing. I got a blank stare from the student, and one of the committee members told me that nobody knows, and the natural-product researchers just pick an organism, puree it (or some part of it), make separations, then try them on anything they'd like to cure/killl, and see what works.

      As much as I applaud my colleagu
    • On top of that, there is the annoying habit of the mass media's description of any type of medical research as having the potential to treat "cancer or Alzheimer's" (or AIDS or Parkinson's).

      These types of bioassays are the ultimate in crap shoots - there is no specific reason to suspect that brain coral just happens to secrete a substance that treats brain cancer. We're just looking for all sorts of oddly shaped proteins and hoping that one of them fits a receptor somewhere. It's just as likely that we'd

    • If you read biology journals, you'll see that just about every third or fourth paper consists of "we pureed some sea sponge in a blender and extracted this compound. And look, it kills cancer cells (*cough* and non-cancerous cells too *cough*)!"

      Once in a blue moon, it does work. Search PubMed for "ecteinascidin" or "Et-743". The compound was isolated from pureed Caribbean sea squirt, and is showing great promise for hard-to-treat sarcomas.

      On the other hand, that's the only example that comes easily to mind.

  • Sea Exploration (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmiley (975720) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:46AM (#15386279)
    We really need to get back on this train. Oceanography wasn't really even around until relatively recent times. Even once it started catching on, it quickly died off. To date, one of our biggest contributions to oceanography and marine biology has been the H.M.S. Challenger in the 1870's, it's three year mission to explore strange... well, nevermind you get the picture. Sure we have made some large steps since then, but nothing that comes close.
    • Re:Sea Exploration (Score:2, Insightful)

      by icebrain (944107)
      Sounds eerily familiar, like the space program... we get one (or a couple) good efforts going, finally start learning stuff... and then people drop it with the mentality of "all right, that's good enough." I'm sure there's a good supply of young people who would be very willing to do out on new oceanographic research trips... but I'm betting they're either lured away by bigger research grants in other areas, or no one wants to fund them for the above-mentioned reason. And I think the public perception of
      • Re:Sea Exploration (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gmiley (975720)
        You are correct, you do see this in many fields of scientific research. An idea catches on, and just as quickly it fades away. In the 1930's two men invented what is called the "bathysphere", it was eventually made by GE (General Electric), the home appliance company. The two men were Barton and Beebe, they got to a depth of around 1,400 feet.

        After that, in 1953, a Swiss explorer, Auguste Piccard, made a record shattering dive to almost 7 miles. This vessel, the Trieste, was sponsored by the U.S. Navy. A
        • You are correct, you do see this in many fields of scientific research. An idea catches on, and just as quickly it fades away. In the 1930's two men invented what is called the "bathysphere", it was eventually made by GE (General Electric), the home appliance company. The two men were Barton and Beebe, they got to a depth of around 1,400 feet.

          After that, in 1953, a Swiss explorer, Auguste Piccard, made a record shattering dive to almost 7 miles. This vessel, the Trieste, was sponsored by the U.S. Navy. Aft

          • Ahh but therein lies the "problem" that's not really a problem per se, but still an interesting challenge:

            Deep ocean research, like the space program, is tremendously expensive. (and like the space program, robots have made it significantly cheaper/safer.) And both programs have the problem that the average joe can't really participate beyond monetary support: It takes a very lot of money to support even a few scientists.

            Astronomy on the other hand has the benefit of an army of amateur astronomers with
      • Sounds eerily familiar, like the space program...

        Sound eerily like you not only don't have a clue, but lack the wit to use Google as well.

        we get one (or a couple) good efforts going, finally start learning stuff... and then people drop it with the mentality of "all right, that's good enough."

        Hasn't happened with with oceanography - or space. What has happened is that both have become common enough that it's no longer 'sexy'.

        I'm sure there's a good supply of young people who would be very willing to d

    • We really need to get back on this train. Oceanography wasn't really even around until relatively recent times. Even once it started catching on, it quickly died off. To date, one of our biggest contributions to oceanography and marine biology has been the H.M.S. Challenger in the 1870's, it's three year mission to explore strange... well, nevermind you get the picture. Sure we have made some large steps since then, but nothing that comes close.

      How did this nonsense get modded insightful? Even a minute o

  • Odd. . . (Score:3, Funny)

    by Limburgher (523006) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:47AM (#15386283) Homepage Journal
    Now I have "Octopus's Garden" running through my head. How strange.
    • FTFS: "I'd like to be under the sea
      In an octopus' garden in the shade
      He'd let us in, knows where we've been
      In his octopus' garden in the shade "
      (emphasis mine)

      Funny, it's the YRO articles about the NSA that make me think of Octopus' Garden.
    • I dunno about you, but when i saw that headline i was thinking "Man, where can i score some of these wonder drugs and where's the nearest rave?!"
  • Reef Etiquette (Score:4, Informative)

    by schweinhund (119060) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:47AM (#15386285)
    For those who are not familiar with coral reefs and may go for a casual snorkel or swim sometime, please do not physically touch the coral itself as this kills it. Because of this, federal law requires swimmers to wear flotation jackets when nearby to avoid contact.

    It takes 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral, and the mistreatment of the reefs around Florida (1960s dynamite fishing, jewelry harvesting, etc.) has made it so that the reef off of the Florida Keys is the last living coral reef in the region.
    • Re:Reef Etiquette (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      For those who are not familiar with coral reefs and may go for a casual snorkel or swim sometime, please do not physically touch the coral itself as this kills it. Because of this, federal law requires swimmers to wear flotation jackets when nearby to avoid contact.

      As an ex-marine aquarist (I stopped when I found out that 99% of the animals are from the wild! Don't let some pet-store schmuck tell you otherwise), I've placed a few corals in my tank. The ones that are sold in stores are hardy enough to have

    • Re:Reef Etiquette (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:06AM (#15386369) Homepage Journal
      It takes 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral,

      Source?

      I thought it was more like 1/2 inch per year
    • It takes 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral
      That doesn't make much sense. What happens if you have two reefs growing simultaneously? Do they grow at half speed as to stay within this speed limit? Or, for that matter, what happens if you have two spots on the same reef, growing simultaneously (which they of course do)?
    • It takes 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral

      . . . that's a confusing statistic for something that is inherently parallel in nature. It could take 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral, and next to it another cubic inch of coral, and then you could say it takes 30,000 years to grow 2 cubic inches of coral. I mean, more than 1 cubic inch of coral grows every 30k years. Is that 1 cubic inch built up per square inch of area? Then it should be phrased differently, probably as 1 inch of thickness
    • It takes 30,000 years to grow 1 cubic inch of coral, and the mistreatment of the reefs around Florida (1960s dynamite fishing, jewelry harvesting, etc.) has made it so that the reef off of the Florida Keys is the last living coral reef in the region.

      Ah, Key Largo's an excellent place for scuba diving. While it's not done in the Keys now, dynamite fishing is done frequently in the Indian Ocean. That and the use of cyanide. Shark finning is also popular, especially for shark fin soup.

      Falcon

  • by BinaryOne (697044) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @08:51AM (#15386303)
    The fact is, most of the health problems (or most of the problems, period) we face as humans, ie: cellular degeneration, bacterial infections, etc. have some analog in other forms of nature.

    The production of antibiotics by fungi and other bacteria to reduce the population of competing organisms has been honed by centuries of evolution. If preserved, supported and studied the processes, and the compounds are there to be used.

    The science is slow and tedious, but many of the cultures that live in these rich habitats are well versed in the properties of the flora they have around them.

  • V1@Gr4 ... time for me to update spamassassin filter to include "deep sea reef"
  • Reefs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sqreater (895148)

    How can we be expected to destroy them if we don't know where they are? Let's put more money into hunting down these "reef" things so we can pit-mine them for a solution to athlete's foot.

    Or, maybe we can just leave them the hell alone. How about it scientists? Just a thought.

    • If people with scientific and engineering mindsets just "left things alone", you'd be sitting in a cave wondering why rocks weren't edible.

      Most likely, as the natural product needs to be modified before being an effective pharmaceutical, the compounds of interest will be identified. Then either the necessary gene sequence will be cloned into a workhorse organism, such as yeast or E. coli, or retrosynthetic techniques will be used to make the compound and derivatives thereof under abiotic conditions.

      T
    • by gmby (205626)
      "for a solution to athlete's foot."
      Try vinegar 1 cup per gallon water. Soak feet for a good while. Spray a little in the shoe if you can't wash the shoes. If you can wash the shoes then use bleach and a little vinegar in the wash.
      Oh... and always buy shoes that are on the top shelf and have not been tried on by an "athlete!"

      PS. If you have a problem with "athletes foot" then please "GO TO THE SHOE STORE WITHOUT YOUR SHOES ON!" BUY CLEAN SOCKS BEFORE TRYING ON NEW SHOES! Use the above remedy to help with you
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This doesn't really make sense to me. I had been taught that coral reefs required the photosynthesis of the Zooanthelae algae which therefore, restricted such reefs to shallow waters where sunlight could penetrate. This article is talking about coral reefs 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep! That makes no sense.

    For those that don't know, sunlight doesn't penetrate into the depths. It is noticeably dimmer at 120 feet (an approximate limit for sport SCUBA divers.) and it is quite dark at 300 feet. No light whatsoever r
    • Nope, only some corals utilize zooxanthellate algae. It's estimated that over 2/3 of all coral species do not use algae, do not need sunlight, and live in the deep sea. Huge coral reefs, some of the largest (a huge on off the coast of Norway) live along the continental shelf, which is very deep, past the photic zone.
  • FTA "the Miami researchers believe this is the first time an AUV has been used to map deepwater coral reefs". Seems they never use Google.

    "New Underwater Imaging Vehicle Maps ... deepwater coral reefs" - Jul 29, 2003 [spacemart.com]
  • by slushbat (777142) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:12AM (#15386415)
    Of all the stupid places to drop your stash of wonder drugs over the side of the boat.
    • reminds me of a night dive on scubacat i was leading in thailand at the similan islands, i had a group of 5 with me, i found 1 tea spoon, some rubbish and 1 bottle of jhonny walker blacklabel 12yr in box which couldn't have been more than 2 hours old underwater, of course i was really removing rubbish!
  • It makes sense really. Since we've cutting all the rainforests down to grow soya, we can no longer draw upon the most widely used source of drug inventions. Over 25% of modern drugs contain chemicals originally discovered in rainforest plants & animals. These discoveries then normally allow synthetic mass-production.

    Once the rainforests are gone, discovering these chemicals and constituants will get much tougher and many drugs simply wont be invented. Reefs may help produce some drugs, but the article i
    • Once the rainforests are gone, discovering these chemicals and constituants will get much tougher and many drugs simply wont be invented. Reefs may help produce some drugs, but the article ignores the fact that the diminishing rainforests and other similar natural sources provide far better places to look for potential drug ingredients!

      In other news, cleaning my counter with bleach could kill microbes which produce the cure for obsessive compulsive disorder.

      There are unumerable (well, we'll call it 10^30 or
      • Synthetic drugs don't just get made. 95% of the time they are modelled on naturally produced sources, they can then get made artifically once the source process has been well researched.

        Your kitchen surface is not likely to produce chemicals useful for drugs either mainly because their not surviving in a niche enviroment. Rainforests for example contain lots of good candidate chemicals because trillions of different types of organisms live in often carefully etched out niche's where funky chemical processes
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:25AM (#15386496) Journal
    A friend of mine with a biology background took a job involving searching for new plants and herbs with potential scientific/medical uses. He was sent on expensive trips to remote parts of Africa and other locations to examine the plants and flowers - and after years of it, found absolutely nothing useful. Did this mean he was a "failure" or lost his job over it? Heck no... That was pretty much what they *expected* would happen. It's just that there's so much money involved if someone DOES hit upon a useful one, they'll throw wads of money at the problem.

    This strikes me as the same thing, only in the ocean rather than on land. Exploring is all well and good, but if there's sufficient risk of doing major damage to the landscape - it seems like the negatives outweigh the lottery-winning like chances of finding a benefit from it.
  • Stimutax anyone?
  • by paiute (550198) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:52AM (#15386655)
    Although it may seem that if a promising drug is found in a deep sea organism, the rapacious drug companies will get all Constant Gardener on them and start the dredging, that is not how it goes. If a compound is isolated from a sponge that had some desirable bioactivity in humans, that compound is isolated and its stucture is determined. Now the reason this compound has some activity in humans - a species the sponge has had no evolutionary contact with - is most usually due to the way some corner of the chemical sticks into a receptor or enzyme in the mammalian cell. This corner, by no means the whole thing, is called a pharmaphore - the actual working part of the molecule. The rest of the compound is unnecessary. The drug company doesn't need to waste money making that part, or squeezing out gallons of sponge juice. They set their hundreds of medicinal chemists to work preparing a simpler, easier to manufacure, compound that contains the necessary pharmaphore.
  • The DiscoveryHD channel has a program, "Predators of the Great Barrier Reef" which shows a natural enemy to the worlds reef population, the Crown Of Thorns Starfish. These starfish are demolishing the reefs at a very fast rate. During the show, they discuss the fact that certain sea animals (fish, eels, sea-snakes) have venom which can help with pain management and possibly cure some illnesses. http://dhd.discovery.com/tvlistings/episode.jsp?ep isode=0&cpi=110507&gid=0&channel=DHD [discovery.com]
  • Isn't this known as a "fishing expedition"?
  • Why are they searching for meds there?
    Why not search the Sahara desert or the
    moon or the African jungle or something?

    Why the deep sea reef?
    • Why are they searching for meds there? Why not search the Sahara desert or the moon or the African jungle or something? Why the deep sea reef?

      It is most likely that there are other groups studying the life of the Sahara desert and African jungles, however, it is most unlikely that studying biodiversity on the moon will turn up much that is useful. (As far as we know, there is no life there!) More fruitful for the moon would be a search for life at all. Once we find it, then we can study it.

      When search

  • I read speculation that fungus develops anti-microbial toxins because it competes with bacteria for living space.

    Soooo... in addition to searching deep sea reefs, how about putting various kinds of cancer cells into competition with fungi and bacteria until some develop randomly that kill the cancer. Then see what they did to achieve that.

    It might be cheaper.
  • For a moment, I thought that said "A primary goal of the upcoming expedition... will be to search for marine orgasms..."

    I was much more interested in the article until I re-read that sentence.
  • I don't want there to be any more new drugs! Our current crop of drugs are incredibly expensive, and due to patent limitations generic inexpensive version can't be made for several years. The result is that in order to recoup investments in successful and failed drugs the medical companies charge a high price (and a lot of people think they're greedy too). These high prices make it hard for senior citizens and the poor to afford their medications and this puts a tax on the US medicare system so that we a
  • by spankey51 (804888)
    " Scientists Search Deep Sea Reefs for Wonder Drugs"

    So THATS where the term "reefer" comes from!
    • Can't wait to see the headlines after the trade devolops "reefers" as a slang name for the scientists.

      "Reefer cures cancer !"

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