Marine Microbes Hold Clues for Biomedical Researchers

Jun 3, 2013

A pouch full of resin soaks up chemicals produced by phytoplankton. Those chemicals will be tested for their ability to treat cystic fibrosis.
Credit Tom Kleindinst / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Chances are, when you think about bacteria, you think about getting sick. But some marine microbes may hold potential treatments for human diseases.

Marine microbes include some of the oldest species on Earth. Over billions of years, bacteria have have evolved mechanisms that enable them to thrive in the extremes of the ocean - from the nutrient-depauperate open ocean, to hot, sulfurous hydrothermal vents, and even cracks in rocks deep below the ocean's floor. Some take advantage of rare or unusual nutrients, others produce chemicals to ward off predators or attract helpful associates.

It turns out those adaptations could be useful to more than the bacteria, and of interest to more than the oceanographers and ecologists who study them. In particular, biomedical researchers may have something to learn from marine microbes. Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are applying their methods and findings to the study of lyme disease, cystic fibrosis, and the problem of antibiotic resistance.

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