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Scripps scientists discover rich medical drug resource in deep ocean sediments

s the door open for a line of similar discoveries from the recently discovered Salinospora genus.

"The second paper shows the potential for the production of materials that are highly biologically active and very chemically unique. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg of diverse chemical formulas that are out there," said Fenical.

Although more than 100 drugs today exist from terrestrial microorganisms, including penicillin, arguably the most important drug in medicine, the potential from land-based microbial sources began dwindling nearly 10 years ago. Pharmaceutical investigators searched high and low around the globe for new terrestrial, drug-producing microbes, but with diminishing payback. According to Fenical, when considering the ever-increasing resistance of bacteria to existing antibiotics, the need to make new discoveries becomes essential.

Surprisingly, the oceans, with some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, were largely ignored as a potential source for actinomycete bacteria. Given this omission, it was natural for Fenical's group at the Scripps CMBB to initiate studies of marine environments for new microorganisms important in pharmaceutical discovery.

His group developed new methods and tools for obtaining a variety of ocean sediments, including a miniaturized sampling device that efficiently captures samples from the deep ocean. They derived bottom muds from more than 1,000 meters deep from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of California. They also developed new methods for sifting through these samples (which contain roughly one billion microorganisms per cubic centimeter), culturing the microorganisms, identifying them by genetic methods, and screening their metabolic products for anticancer and antibiotic properties.

By genetic and culture analysis, Fenical's group discovered the new genus Salinospora, a type of actinomycete bacteria found in tropical an
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Contact: Mario Aguilera or Cindy Clark
scrippsnews@ucsd.edu
858-534-3624
University of California - San Diego
17-Jan-2003


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