Airdate: Mar 11, 2004
Scientist: Lawrence Rouse
Drugs from the Sea: Research
Researchers are analyzing compounds found in aquatic organisms to study their potential antiviral properties.
ambience: Great Barrier Reef underwater sound
Offshore oil platforms also act as artificial reefs where a variety of underwater creatures make their homes. Scientists are studying these life forms, hoping to find new compounds with anti-viral properties. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We're listening to sounds recorded underwater at a reef. Divers from Louisiana State University collect sample organism from the giant structures, then send them to the surface to be analyzed by a team of specialists. Lawrence Rouse is director of the project.
"What we're looking for are two things. We're looking for organisms that have known potential -- and there are a few of them. We're trying to find out if those organisms uh, actually exist in the Gulf of Mexico. But, in a sense we’re trying to find a natural model. To find a substance, determine its molecular structure, and then organic chemists would would attempt to recreate that substance in the laboratory."
Back at the laboratory, researchers assess the value of these new compounds, examining their molecular structures, and testing for antiviral properties.
"Viruses have shapes that are like keys, and these keys fit into places in cells that allow them to get into a cell and do the damage. So what they're looking for is something that has the shape of a virus but doesn't do what a virus does. So it plugs the hole in a sense."
According to Lawrence Rouse, biochemists have already identified an
anti-inflammatory algae, a bacteria which may be able to help in the fight against Leukemia, and a mollusk with the potential to cure bladder cancer. Once compounds like these are found, scientists attempt to replicate them in the laboratory, using the natural model to create a synthetic drug which can be mass produced.
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