Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have produced evidence that bacteria living inside a small marine animal may be the source of a new drug compound being developed to fight cancer.
The marine invertebrate Bugula neritina, a brown bryozoan animal with stringy tufts that look like algae, appears unremarkable and similar to a variety of moss-like sea creatures. In fact, bryozoans are widely known by boat operators, who consider them ordinary fouling organisms and often scrape them off their vessels' hulls.
But their potential may be far from ordinary. Scientists previously discovered Bugula neritina to be the source of bryostatins, a family of chemical compounds currently being studied for their ability to treat a variety of cancers. The anticancer drug Bryostatin 1 can be extracted from colonies of Bugula neritina. The new study provides evidence that bacteria that live inside Bugula neritina, and are passed in larvae from one generation to the next, are the likely source of the anticancer compound.
"Currently there really isn't a practical way to produce enough bryostatin for people to use. Even if there were enough of the animals out there, collecting enough would be environmentally destructive. This is one of the biggest problems in the development of drugs from marine organisms," said Haygood, an associate professor in the Marine Biology Research Division and the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps. Most anticancer drugs act by killing any rapidly growing cells, inevitably interfering with the body's normal processes. Bryostatin 1 "flips a switch" that controls how cells behave in the body. In the case of leukemia cells, for example, it seems to bring them to their senses and make them behave like normal blood cells. The drug is now in clinical trials for use in humans.
Divers working on scientific studies have found the UK's largest reef ,built by sea-dwelling worms, just off the Dorset coast.Dr Ken Collins was stunned when divers working with him found the reef, covering an area of around a square mile, during a search for rare seaweed. He estimates that the reef would have lain undisturbed for thousands of years.
The reef is not made from coral but the tubes these tiny worms build from sand and shell fragments. Ross worms (Sabellaria spinulosa) live in tubes about the thickness and length of a pencil, which protects their soft bodies from being eaten by fish and other animals. They settle on other worm tubes, building large mounds that eventually transform a flat sandy gravelly seabed into an extensive reef.
Ken Collins said, 'The reefs consist of patchy mounds of intertwined worm tubes about half a metre high or sometimes as a continuous crust. Gaps between the tubes and crevices are providing shelter for small crabs, molluscs and fish. The mounds themselves provide a habitat for organisms that you would normally expect on rocks, such as anemones, hydroids and bryozoans.
The discovery, near the Isle of Purbeck, was made during a survey of the seabed. Divers from Southampton Oceanography Centre and the Marine Conservation Society were helping Ken Collins map the distribution of maerl, a rare calcareous seaweed that is often mistaken for pink coral. It occurs in a distinct band some 2km offshore from Swanage. It was here, at depths of 25m that the living reef was found.