Over 99% of the microscopic inhabitants of the world’s seas have still not been scientifically studied, even though many of them might be useful to treat cancer and other human diseases. In fact, there are so many unexplored species that it is hard to even estimate how much we still do not know about them.
Algae and sponges carry microorganisms that protect them from environmental threats. Johannes Imhoff, a marine microbiologist at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, said: “Up to 40% of a sponges’ biomass is bacteria and fungi, representing a large bio-diversity of microorganisms which we can isolate in the lab to produce bioactive compounds.”
To turn them into medicine in the lab, researchers culture a fungus from the sample. The fungus naturally produces biochemical compound that could kill other cells – such as cancer.
Antje Labes, a marine biotechnologist working on the project, explained: “We have to recreate the right conditions in the lab for these microorganisms to produce the compounds we need. They need the right temperature, Ph values, nutrients and biological environment.”
Spectrometry focuses on compounds that have not been studied yet. If they have bioactive properties, they could be used in medicine.