Irish marine scientists diving for ‘anti-cancer’ corals and sponges
Scientists from NUI Galway are researching cold water corals and sponges off the coast of Ireland which could have potential antimicrobial or anti-cancer properties.
The team, compromising ten university researchers and students as well as leading marine scientists Dr Louise Allcock and Professor Oliver Thomas, is taking part in a two-week exhibition at the edge of the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.
They are aboard the Irish Marine Institute’s ‘RV Celtic Explorer’ and are using the remotely-operated vehicle ‘ROV Holland I’ to access areas where the sea floor suddenly drops from 300 metres down to 3000 metres.
“Chemists involved in bio-discovery research only need small quantities of any organism to develop a new drug, because once a suitable compound is identified, it can be synthesised in the lab, which can then be used in drugs to combat human diseases,” Professor Thomas said.
His colleague, Dr Allcock, added that they have been able to narrow their searches based on previous experiments and that they are making use of the technology available to reach areas that were hitherto difficult to get to.
“By analysing past research relating to sponges and corals we are able to see that some species are better target groups than others in having antimicrobial or anti-cancer properties,” she said. “Based on this information we are building mathematical models to predict the likelihood of any given species yielding a novel natural product, along with developing species distribution maps of corals and sponges on the deep-sea floor, so that we know the best places to go searching.”
When the scientists return from sea, they will extract chemical compounds from the samples collected to see if they have drug-like characteristics which could be used to combat human illnesses.