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Drugs from the sea

Drugs from the sea
Drugs from the sea

The ocean's depths, where marine organisms release a myriad of unseen molecules, harbor a promising reservoir of potential medicines for the future. Taking the lead in this exploration is the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Continental Biodiversity and Ecology, delving into the mysteries of this underwater pharmacopeia through inventive research.

The institute's international team of scientists has introduced a groundbreaking proof-of-concept device, designed to "sniff" seawater and capture dissolved compounds for analysis. Similar to the rich diversity found in the Amazon's plant life, researchers believe these compounds could unlock new possibilities in drug discovery.

Describing the complexity of seawater, study co-author Dr. Thierry Pérez notes, "A drop of seawater is like a spoonful of dilute soup: it's a complex broth of dissolved molecules from ocean-dwelling organisms." To decode this intricate mixture, scientists require a method to observe the concentrations of these molecules in isolation.

Introducing the In Situ Marine Molecule Logger, or "I-SMEL," a waterproof device easily maneuvered by underwater divers. This innovative tool pumps seawater through disks resembling the texture of make-up remover pads. Tested in the depths of Mediterranean sea caves, which host a diverse array of massive sponges, the instrument proved its efficiency.

Following water sampling, researchers utilized mass spectrometry to evaluate the captured compounds. Published in ACS Central Science, the results showcased diverse elemental compositions and unknown molecular structures—a promising indication for discovering new natural products.

The study uncovered unexpected variations between the sponges and the surrounding water. For example, aeroplysinin-1 was approximately 20 times more abundant in seawater extracts than in a yellow cave-sponge extract. This unanticipated diversity suggests the untapped potential of marine ecosystems.

"I-SMEL" stands as a non-invasive breakthrough in capturing molecules of interest, offering insights into ecosystem health and paving the way for drug discovery. The institute's research approach aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), emphasizing collaboration and global partnerships in the pursuit of scientific advancements.

As the institute continues its exploration of the sea's mysteries, the prospect of discovering new medicines hidden in the ocean depths becomes increasingly tangible—a significant leap forward in the ongoing quest for innovative drug discovery.

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