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Recent Advances in Marine Natural Products Chemistry

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Prof. Joaquin Plumet, Complutense University, Spain


The extent of marine waters covers 70 percent of the globe and its biological diversity represent 95 percent of the biosphere. Approximately ten million species inhabit the marine environment and only a small number of species have been studied. In fact there are marine ecosystems, such as the coral reefs, with a density of species greater than that of a tropical forest. In such ecosystems, competitiveness is very intense which favors the survival of those which continuously improve their means of defense and attack. In particular, organisms that cannot move are provided with a primitive immune system. In their evolutionary process these organisms have developed a series of secondary metabolites that they are able to use to defend themselves from their predators or to attract or repel other organisms. That is, these organisms due to their inability to move have developed an entire chemical defense system. The consequence of this is easy to deduce: approximately 2 percent of marine extracts show activity in in vitro tests. That value drops to 0.4 percent in terrestrial extracts.
The art by which marine organisms elaborate bioactive molecules is fascinating. Marine environment provides different biosynthetic conditions to organisms that live in it. Marine organisms generally live in symbiotic association. The pathway of transfer of nutrients between symbiotic partners is of much importance and raises questions about the real origin of metabolites produced by association.
Since the 1960s, more than 25.000 compounds were discovered from marine organisms and reported in approximately 7000 publications. In addition to these publications there are approximately another 9.000 publications which cover syntheses, reviews, biological activity studies, ecological studies etc. on the subject of marine natural products.
The concept of Marine Natural Products chemistry was conceived in 1951 when Bergmann and Feeny reported on the isolation of the unusual nucleosides spongouridin and spongothymidin from the sponge Cryptotethya crypta, which served as lead structures for antiviral drugs such as Ara-A. More than a decade later, Weinheimer and Spragginsthe discovered prostaglandins in the Caribbean gorgonian Plexaura homomalla at the same time as prostaglandins had just been discovered to be important mediators in the human body.
In 1967, a small symposium was held in Rhode Island, USA, with the ambitious title “Drugs from the Seal”. It was the first academic meeting about finding drugs from marine natural products. A few novel potential structures for drugs were discovered from marine source between 1950 and 1980. Since then Marine Natural Products chemistry was developed rapidly. With the improvement of techniques for the elucidation of chemical structure of the molecules, as well as chemical synthesis, especially from the 1990’s, there was an increase in the number of bioactive natural products characterized from marine organisms. New chemical structures with high specificity towards molecular targets in cells allowed the development of new drugs indicated for the treatment of several illnesses, from cancer to new antibiotics and even neurological disorders.
Biosynthesis of bioactive marine natural products provides many challenging problems. Significant differences exist in the biosynthetic activities of marine and terrestrial plants. Altough the more primitive marine and terrestrial biota possess common biosynthetic pathways to produce terpenes, acetogenins, aromatic compounds, and alkaloids, often in the marine media these pathways have been modified in unusual ways. The halogens in seawater, for example, appear to be fundamentally involved in terpene biosynthesis and in the production of bromine-containing acetogenins and phenolic compounds.
Currently there are at least 13 molecules derived from marine natural products on advanced clinical trials, and nine were approved to be used as medicines. Considering that in the past ten years, more than 1000 new compounds from marine organisms were described, per year, the expectation is that many more drugs will be derived from marine natural products in a near future. Marine natural compounds are not limited to compounds of pharmaceutical importance. Enzymes from marine organisms, in particular marine microbes, may have considerable commercial value. Also, “bulk” compounds from the marine environment, such as seaweed and seaweed products, can be included as natural products.
The production of which may be enhanced by application of a biotechnological approach. In consequence, discovery of a compound from a marine organism can require interaction between marine biologists, microbiologists, chemists, and pharmacologists. Many of the research activities involved in the discovery of novel compounds from the marine environment fall into the area of marine biotechnology, broadly defined as “the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by marine biological agents to provide goods and services”.
Open Chemistry will launch a special issue entitled "Recent Trends in Marine Natural Product Chemistry" with three basic sections: a) Isolation, structural determination and synthesis of Marine Natural Products; b) Biosynthesis of Marine Natural Products and c) Drugs from the Sea.


The authors are kindly invited to register at our paper processing system at: http://www.editorialmanager.com/openchem/ and submit their contribution (both original paper or review are welcome) using a special track established for this topical issue. All papers will go through the Open Chemistry’s high standards, quick, fair and comprehensive peer-review procedure. Instructions for authors are available here.
In case of any questions please contact Guest Editor – Prof. Joaquin Plumet (plumety@ucm.es) or Managing Editor - Agnieszka Topolska  (Agnieszka.Topolska@deguyteropen.com).
As an author of Open Chemistry you will benefit from:
• Impact Factor (2016) - 1.027;
• Open Access;
• transparent, comprehensive and fast peer review managed by our esteemed Coordinating Editor;
• efficient route to fast-track publication and full advantage of De Gruyter’s e-technology;
• immediate publication upon completing the publishing process;
• free language assistance for authors from non-English speaking regions;
• comprehensive abstracting & indexing;
• extensive promotion and worldwide distribution of each published article.
The deadline for submission is 31st of May, 2018.