Scripps scientists discover rich medical drug resource in deep ocean sediments

Although the oceans cover 70 percent of the planet's surface, much of their biomedical potential has gone largely unexplored. Until now.

A group of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, have for the first time shown that sediments in the deep ocean are a significant biomedical resource for microbes that produce antibiotic molecules.

In a series of two papers, a group led by William Fenical, director of the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine (CMBB) at Scripps Institution, has reported the discovery of a novel group of bacteria found to produce molecules with potential in the treatment of infectious diseases and cancer.

"The average person thinks of the bottom of the ocean as a dark, cold, and nasty place that is irrelevant, but we've shown that this environment may be a huge resource for new antibiotics and drugs for the treatment of cancer," said Fenical.

The first paper, published in the October, 2002 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, highlights the discovery of new bacteria, called actinomycetes, from ocean sediments. For more than 45 years, terrestrial actinomycetes were the foundation of the pharmaceutical industry because of their ability to produce natural antibiotics, including important drugs such as streptomycin, actinomycin, and vancomycin. The data from this paper provide the first conclusive evidence of the widespread occurrence of indigenous actinomycete populations in marine sediments.

The second paper, published in the Jan. 20, 2003 issue of the international edition of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, identifies the structure of a new natural product, which Fenical's group has named Salinosporamide A, from this new bacterial resource. The new compound is a potent inhibitor of cancer growth, including human colon carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and, most effectively, breast cancer. January's report crack

Contact: Mario Aguilera or Cindy Clark
University of California - San Diego

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