The NCI schema of Bioprospecting Process (from Newman and Cragg 2005)
Biological gold in the hills (Luke Henderson, Contributor)
A microbiologist and instructor at TRU has discovered bacteria new to science while exploring caves in Wells Grey Provincial Park.
Dr. Naowarat Cheeptham discovered these bacteria while bioprospecting, a term used to describe searching for new life forms for practical use and commercialization. She hopes to discover microbes that could be used in the pharmaceutical industry to benefit humans.
“Can we use their compounds they produce to our benefit? Such as anti-cancer agents or anti-microbial agents?” Cheeptham said.
Cheeptham chose the caves because of their extreme ecological nature.
“When you talk of darkness, you don’t have primary producers for energy, they complete the food web,” she said. “If you don’t have photosynthesis where do you get the energy from?
“Caves are actually a near-starved environment.”
This was the first bioprospecting in volcanic caves to take place in Canada. Cheeptham expected the life forms to match the uniqueness of their environment.
“Wouldn’t they have unique metabolic pathways to be able to produce something new for us?” she said. “We can make use of their metabolic diversity.”
During her exploration, Cheeptham did discover a strain of Actinomycete bacteria that may be beneficial to the agricultural industry. The bacteria, at this time only known as E9, has shown anti-microbial properties against Paenibacillus larvae, a destructive honeybee killer that causes foulbrood disease.
Entering isolated environments, such as caves, is not a simple matter.
“You have to be aware that every action you do in the cave can change the native microbial community,” Cheeptham said.
This isn’t the first time Cheeptham has undergone an expedition in search of new life forms. She has also done research exploring ocean sediment from Tokyo Bay.
Cheeptham is not alone in her bioprospecting.
Soricimed Biopharma Inc. is a Canadian-based company in Sackville, N.B., that specializes in discovering and utilizing new microbes.
The company’s mission statement is: “To advance the health and wellness of humanity by developing globally applicable cancer and pain management platforms.”
Bioprospecting walks a fine line of serving human needs and financial gain.
“On the one hand, our mission is to discover and deliver medical innovation to treat unmet medical management needs in various disease conditions,” Biopharma’s website stated. “On the other, our target customer/collaborator is the traditional pharmaceutical industry.”
Recently a group of researchers discovered new microbes in some of the world’s deepest caves in Lechuguilla , N.M. The bacteria found have been in absolute isolation from the outside world, but have built-in antibodies, according to an article posted in http://www.sciencedaily.com.
The bacteria are resistant to nearly every antibiotic in use by medical doctors. These bacteria are challenging scientists’ understanding of bacteria.
“Maybe bacteria harbor more antibiotic producing genes that we haven’t discovered,” Cheeptham said. “The purpose of bioprospecting gives us info we didn’t have before.
“There is other knowledge to be gained from this.”
Fish skin may offer scientists tips on designing optical devices
THE skin of silvery fish such as sardines and herring acts as an “invisibility cloak” against predators and may offer scientists useful tips on designing optical devices, according to new research.
The fish produce a natural optical camouflage by reflecting light thanks to iridescent scales made out of a chemical called guanine found in DNA.
The crystals in the scales of the fish prevent light reflected from their surfaces from becoming polarised, which would ruin their camouflage.
Fish such as sardines and herring possess not one but two types of the “guanine” crystals, researchers have discovered.
Each crystal has different optical properties. By mixing them together, the fish ensure that light bouncing off their skin is not polarised and they remain highly reflective.
This helps them hide from predators by matching the background light flickering through the water.
Dr Nicholas Roberts, of the University of Bristol, said: “We have discovered a generic and novel optical mechanism in silvery fish like herring, sardine and sprat that seemingly breaks this basic law of reflection, enabling non-polarising reflections to occur.
“We believe these species of fish have evolved this particular multilayer structure to help conceal them from predators, such as dolphin and tuna.
“These fish have found a way to maximize their reflectivity over all angles they are viewed from. This helps the fish best match the light environment of the open ocean, making them less likely to be seen.
“What we have discovered in these species of fish is their mechanism of camouflage exhibits polarisation neutrality, thus maximising their reflectivity over all angles. This would help the fish best match the open-water background light field and aid their ability to camouflage themselves against predators.
“Our work suggests that by having a particular mixing ratio of these two types of guanine crystal, these species of fish have evolved a structure that enables near constant reflectivity over all angles of incidence. This creates an optimal solution for camouflage purposes.”
As a result of this ability, the skin of silvery fish could hold the key to better optical devices, such as light emitting diodes.
Researcher Tom Jordan, a PhD student in Dr Roberts’s lab, said: “Many modern day optical devices, such as LED lights and low-loss optical fibres, use these non-polarising types of reflectors to improve efficiency.
“However, these manmade reflectors currently require the use of materials with specific optical properties that are not always ideal.
“The mechanism that has evolved in fish overcomes this current design limitation and provides a new way to manufacture these non-polarizing reflectors,” Dr Roberts explained.
“Many aquatic animals, such as squid, cuttlefish and mantis shrimp, are sensitive to the polarisation of light and have well-developed polarisation vision.
“We are very interested in the polarisation properties of the reflectors that they use, and any novel optics that have evolved as a result of evolutionary adaptations.”
The findings of the University of Bristol team are published in the journal Nature Photonics.
A painkiller as powerful as morphine, but without most of the side-effects, has been found in the deadly venom of the black mamba, say French scientists.
The predator, which uses neurotoxins to paralyse and kill small animals, is one of the fastest and most dangerous snakes in Africa.
However, tests on mice, reported in the journal Nature, showed its venom also contained a potent painkiller.
They admit to being completely baffled about why the mamba would produce it.
The researchers looked at venom from 50 species before they found the black mamba’s pain-killing proteins - called mambalgins.
Venomous species inflict poisonous wounds by stinging, scratching or biting their victims and injecting the toxin.
Some snakes are venomous creatures which loom large in the public consciousness, but nature also throws up some surprising species with toxic bites
Dr Eric Lingueglia, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology near Nice, told the BBC: “When it was tested in mice, the analgesia was as strong as morphine, but you don’t have most of the side-effects.”
Morphine acts on the opioid pathway in the brain. It can cut pain, but it is also addictive and causes headaches, difficulty thinking, vomiting and muscle twitching. The researchers say mambalgins tackle pain through a completely different route, which should produce few side-effects.
He said the way pain worked was very similar in mice and people, so he hoped to develop painkillers that could be used in the clinic. Tests on human cells in the laboratory have also showed the mambalgins have similar chemical effects in people.
But he added: “It is the very first stage, of course, and it is difficult to tell if it will be a painkiller in humans or not. A lot more work still needs to be done in animals.”
Dr Nicholas Casewell, an expert in snake venom at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, has recently highlighted the potential of venom as a drug source.
Commenting on this study he said: “It’s very exciting, it’s a really great example of drugs from venom, we’re talking about an entirely new class of analgesics.”
Dr Lingueglia said it was “really surprising” that black mamba venom would contain such a powerful painkiller.
Dr Casewell agreed that it was “really, really odd”. He suggested the analgesic effect may work in combination “with other toxins that prevent the prey from getting away” or may just affect different animals, such as birds, differently to mice.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Dr Roger Knaggs said: “We are witnessing the discovery of a novel mechanism of action which is not a feature of any existing painkillers.”
He cautioned that the mambalgins worked by injections into the spine so would need “significant development” before they could be used in people.
I often hear someone lament that the era of great adventures is over: “I was born too late.” In terms of finding new lands, agreed; but in terms of finding new intellectual adventures, this is dead wrong. For discovery of new biological and ecological understanding, we live in the most adventurous time ever. Our field expeditions are often conducted much like those of 100 years ago, but this expedition research ends up producing compounds that can be identified only through the use of today’s most cutting-edge technology.
In Fiji, one sees clearly that human health and the environment are linked. We have experienced ciguatera poisoning from being served fish that fed on the toxic dinoflagellates that produce this poison, and we have experienced the considerable discomfort of dengue fever (called bone-break fever for how it makes you feel), which is spread by mosquitoes under certain environmental conditions.
Egyptian scientists to make diabetes drug from bitter fruit
[CAIRO] Bitter gourd, a plant long held to have anti-diabetic properties, is to be turned into tablets that Egyptian scientists hope will provide an alternative to insulin injections.
A national pharmaceutical company and the National Research Centre (NRC) signed a contract last month for the manufacture of a drug based on an extract from the fruit, which is also known as balsam pear (Momordica charantia).
The deal follows research done by the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Department of the NRC.
Souad El Gengaihi, professor of medicinal and aromatic plants at the NRC, and lead researcher on the new treatment, told SciDev.Net that balsam pear, which grows in Asia and parts of Latin America in hot, sandy locations, is traditionally used in Asian medicine.
“Its most basic use is to help with gastrointestinal issues, but many studies done in different countries have shown that it can help people who are coping with diabetes,” she said.
Traditionally known as desert melons. Bitter Gourd, or حنضل, grows all over south Sinai and is used medicinally by the Bedouin to treat arthritis, as well as other ailments.
[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).
From the time Columbus discovered the new world in 1492, the connection of the new world and the old world and the transfer of biological material between these worlds profoundly changed, the scale, nature and political significance of exchanges and also the course of human development (Wynberg and laird 2009).
The Atlas Miller map
Wynberg, R. Laird, S. (2009) Bioprospecting, access and benefit sharing: revisiting the grand Bargin
Bioprospecting is only one part of the overall biodiversity conservation picture, and possibly quite a small part. Biodiversity is to be valued for many reasons, some of which relate to its uses and some of which do not (see Figure 1). As exciting as the prospect of new drug discovery may be, for both the potential health benefits and the potential financial returns, biodiversity conservation cannot be predicated upon this possibility alone.