Drug discovery team to explore newly discovered deep-sea reefs

From May 22-30, Harbor Branch scientists, along with colleagues from the University of Miami, will use the Harbor Branch Johnson-Sea-Link II submersible to explore for the first time newly discovered deep-sea reefs between Florida and the Bahamas. The reefs were discovered in 2,000 to 2,900 feet of water last December by a University of Miami team using advanced sonar techniques. A primary goal of the upcoming expedition, which is funded largely by the State of Florida's "Florida Oceans Initiative," will be to search for marine organisms that produce chemical compounds with the potential to treat human diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

"We've found incredible and surprising diversity at other deepwater reefs near Miami and Bimini, and some promising potential disease treatments, so we're very excited about the chance to explore these new areas," says Amy Wright, director of the Harbor Branch Division of Biomedical Marine Research.

Researchers have suspected since the 1970s that deep reefs lay undiscovered between Miami and Bimini because pieces of reef-building corals had been brought up using surface-operated dredge and grab sampling equipment. However, just as the vast majority of the ocean remains poorly mapped and unexplored--even off Miami--these potentially important areas remained unseen. In December of 2005, as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Ocean Exploration program, University of Miami researchers, led by geophysicist Mark Grasmueck and geologist Gergor Eberli, began mapping deepwater habitats off Miami and Bimini using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with advanced sonar technology. AUVs operate without a tether to the surface and are pre-programmed to independently perform tasks. AUVs have been frequently used in oil exploration and also in a variety of other research programs for mapping purposes, but the Miami researchers believe this is the first time an AUV has been used t

Contact: Mark Schrope
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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