Exploring oil rigs and an ancient shoreline in the Gulf Of Mexico for new disease cures

Fort Pierce, Fla. -- On Sept. 8, HARBOR BRANCH researchers will embark on a mission to explore deep-sea sites in the Gulf of Mexico, including abandoned oil rigs and an ancient shoreline. They will be searching for marine organisms that produce chemicals with potential to cure human maladies ranging from pain and inflammation to cancer and AIDS-related infections. The team will include members from the HARBOR BRANCH Oceanographic Institution, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration, as well as a Florida teacher.

"Basically no research has been done on the biomedical potential of Gulf of Mexico deep-sea resources," says John Reed, HARBOR BRANCH's mission coordinator for the Division of Biomedical Marine Research (DBMR).

The expedition is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Ocean Exploration program. It will bring HARBOR BRANCH scientists, co-led by Reed, Dr. Amy Wright, director of DBMR and Dr. Shirley Pomponi, the institution's vice president and director of research, from the southwest tip of Florida north toward the panhandle off the coast of Alabama. The research team will explore a broad range of habitats to find new marine organisms that produce compounds with pharmaceutical potential as well as to document the Gulf's rich biodiversity.

This exploration will focus on hard bottom areas of the Gulf seafloor. These include pinnacles of Lophelia coral that jut up to 500 feet from the sea floor in some areas, coldwater seeps where oil and gas bubble up from the bottom to support unique organisms, and sinkholes most likely formed by seepage of freshwater out of aquifers beneath the seafloor. Most of such sites are situated along an ancient limestone ledge, which runs parallel to Florida's west coast and was once the shoreline 15,000 years ago before sea level rose to its current state.

The team will also be the first to explore the deep reaches of so

Contact: Mark Schrope
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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