[FIJI] Indo-Pacific nations stand to make millions of dollars from medical applications of resources from marine invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals, researchers say.
But they warn that better regulation of such resources is needed to ensure they are used sustainably.
Substances generated by some marine invertebrates have the potential to be used in drugs to treat diseases like cancer, and exploration for these resources is expected to rise in response to escalating demands for such drugs, said Miguel Costa Leal, biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and lead author of a study in PLoS One (20 January).
"The global market for marine-derived drugs was around US$4.8 billion in 2011 and is forecast to reach US$8.6 billion by 2016," he told SciDev.Net.
"Worldwide, nations are generally aware of such interest. But adequate management guidelines addressing bioprospecting are still missing in most countries."
The study said that the Pacific Ocean accounts for most new marine natural products discovered over the past two decades – and for nearly two-thirds of all such products identified so far.
Leal said there is clear potential for marine invertebrates to contribute to the development of drugs that address a range of diseases such as cancers, microbial infections, inflammation, malaria and tuberculosis.
But he called for better regulations to govern bio-prospectors and marine systems, to ensure such resources are adequately protected.
A keen debate on the governance of marine resources is expected at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June, where oceans are a key theme.
The draft negotiating document for Rio+20 stresses the importance of “equitable sharing of marine and ocean resources” and calls for an urgent start on negotiating an agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea “that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”.
In the Pacific, there are also calls for wealth from marine resources to be shared with indigenous communities.
"The chemical resources of the marine environment remain underdeveloped, in particular in the vast Pacific region," said Eric Clua, co-ordinator of the Coral Reef Initiatives for the Pacific at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
"Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge of plants and their medicinal uses has long been a source for modern medicine," Clua said, adding that they have "often seen little or no benefit from the commercialisation of medicines originating from their traditional knowledge".
Link to full study in PLoS ONE [925kB]
Link to SciDev.Net’s Spotlight on Ocean science for sustainable development
Making of Creatures of Light
What goes into the making of an exhibition about organisms that glow? Curator John Sparks, marine biologist David Gruber, and firefly expert Marc Branham discuss what’s most surprising about bioluminescence, what it takes to produce a scientifically accurate model of a bioluminescent animal, and how to re-create the experience of scuba diving on a magnificent coral wall.
A report by a South Africa-based non-profit organisation has found seven new suspected cases of biopiracy of African biological resources and traditional knowledge.
Riaz K Tayob
Issue No. 231/232 (Nov/Dec 2009)
ACCORDING to a report, ‘Pirating African Heritage: The Pillaging Continues’ by the African Centre for Biosafety, seven new suspected cases of biopiracy in Africa take the form of applications for or grant of patents in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. They add to the 36 cases found in the Centre’s 2006 study ‘Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing’. The seven new cases are based on a preliminary study of patent applications lodged and patents granted in the US, European Union and elsewhere. Further investigation is merited by African governments, the report states, to determine conclusively whether biopiracy has occurred and what action to take.
The seven cases include claims from universities, government departments as well as small and large companies. The claims relate to a wide range of products including for anti-aging (for example, by luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton under its Christian Dior label), skincare, sexual dysfunction, viruses and vaccines, insect repellents and possible cancer treatments.
20 New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine
Wouldn’t it be instructive if we could see the effect of a genetic mutation in real time, as the gene was misbehaving? Well, that’s one of the perks of using the zebrafish—a tiny, striped, transparent fish.
Just last month, an international team of scientists—funded in part by NIH—published the entire genetic code of the zebrafish . This is a vital resource for understanding human health and disease. How does the genetic blueprint of a fish help us or accelerate drug discovery? Well, it turns out that more than 75% of the genes that have been implicated in human diseases have counterparts in the zebrafish. So, if we discover a mutation in a human, we can make the corresponding mutation in the zebrafish gene—and often get a pretty good idea of how the gene works, how the mutation causes havoc, and how it causes disease in humans. We can even use the zebrafish to test potential drug candidates, to see whether they can alter or fix the symptoms before moving on to mice or humans.
A second paper in the same issue of Nature describes how another team has created mutations in 38% of all the zebrafish genes and is now investigating the effects of each mutation . Fishy as it sounds, it’s an amazing system to learn about biology.
 The zebrafish reference genome sequence and its relationship to the human genome. Howe K, et al. Nature. 2013 Apr 25;496(7446):498-503. doi: 10.1038/nature12111. Epub 2013 Apr 17.
 A systematic genome-wide analysis of zebrafish protein-coding gene function. Kettleborough RN, Busch-Nentwich EM, Harvey SA, Dooley CM, de Bruijn E, van Eeden F, Sealy I, White RJ, Herd C, Nijman IJ, Fényes F, Mehroke S, Scahill C, Gibbons R, Wali N, Carruthers S, Hall A, Yen J, Cuppen E, Stemple DL. Nature. 2013 Apr 25;496(7446):494-7.
Genomics: Zebrafish earns its stripes. Schier AF. Nature. 2013 Apr 25;496(7446):443-4.
 vhnf1, the MODY5 and familial GCKD-associated gene, regulates regional specification of the zebrafish gut, pronephros, and hindbrain. Sun Z, Hopkins N. Genes Dev. 2001 Dec 1;15(23):3217-29.
NIH support: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; National Human Genome Research Institute; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; Office of the Director
Sea trash spiraling out of control, study finds
Fungus straight out of science fiction.
Just in case you’re too lazy or unable to watch the YouTube video, the fungus spreads through the insect and compels it to go somewhere high up to attach itself and die. Then the fungus sprouts from the corpse and spreads its spores upon the insect populations below. Badass! (Watch the clip.)
After doing a little research, I discovered that the genus Cordyceps includes one kind called Cordyceps sinensis (AKA caterpillar fungus), which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Apprently according to Wiki (Which is not academically accepted)
In Tibetan it is known as Yartsa Gunbu [Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu], source of Nepali: यार्सागुम्बा, Yarshagumba, Yarchagumba. It is also known as “keera jhar” in India. Its name in Chinese “dong chong xia cao” (冬虫夏草) means “winter worm, summer grass” (meaning “worm in the winter, (turns to) plant in the summer”). The Chinese name is a literal translation of the original Tibetan name, which was first recorded in the 15th Century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje….
Here are some pictures via Flickr of 冬虫夏草 as it may look in a TCM store (click through the second one for more info):
It is very interesting to finding a fungus reminiscent of Giger’s Alien, only to learn that its used as a traditional medicine and foodstuff by the Chinese many other peoples for hundreds of years.
It does make me think of the different medical methods the old traditional medicine vs the modern western medicine.
The old traditional remedy:
- Normally has Thousands of years of use.
- Works in synergy with many other secondary metabolites.
- more often then not can take years (more than the clinical trial period) to discover and decipher the many ways it works.
- Sometimes difficult to ascertain the effectiveness.
The modern medicine:
- Generally only has 20 years of clinical trial research into its effectiveness
- Mechanisms are generally well known
- sometimes they have really bad side effects as there has only been 20 years of research.
Please bear in mind this is not a definitive our wholly accurate comparison it is just what I’ve seen whilst doing research.
Bacteria turn toxins into gold
What do bacteria and metal have in common? In fact they may share a complex relationship. Recent exciting research findings by microbiologists at the MLU show evidence of this. News that, for example, copper door handles in hospitals help reduce the spread of bacteria or that bacteria allow gold to “grow” is making headlines in the media (see scientia halensis 3/09) and was published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.
Prof. Dietrich Nies at work in his lab, photo: Maike Glöckner Research groups led by Prof. Dietrich Nies at the Institute of Biology discovered a while ago how “clever” bacteria are able to deactivate the toxins that are directed at them. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics even possess various ways of making an antibiotic ineffective. Either they transport it right out of their cells, alter it or don’t even absorb it in the first place. Bacteria work in the same way when it comes to tackling heavy metals. Many of these metals, for example zinc, are important trace elements in small amounts, however large quantities of them are toxic. Bacteria that are resistant to heavy metals survive in highly contaminated locations where the heavy metals have denatured all other organisms. These bacteria easily dispose of the heavy metal cations by ejecting them from their cells or by transforming them into base metals.