Journal of international biotechnology law
Biotechnological Potential of Marine Sponges and their Associated Bacteria as Producers of New Pharmaceuticals (Part I)
Throughout human history natural products have provided the basis for medicinal treatment. About 60 years ago the advent of SCUBA diving techniques granted access to a thitherto untapped source of pharmacologically highly active natural products: the marine environment. In the oceans not plants but sessile animals, particularly sponges, have proven to be the most fruitful organisms in this context. Sponges have evolved a vast arsenal of chemical weapons to defend themselves against various threats from their environment. These molecules remarkably often show potent activities in pharmaceutical assays. Several sponge-derived compounds are already in clinical trials as agents against cancer, microbial infections, inflammation and other diseases. However, in many cases drug development is severely hampered by the limited supply of the respective compounds, as they are often present only in minute amounts in the sponge tissue. Big hope to circumvent this obstacle lies on the supposition that sponge-associated bacteria and not the sponges themselves are in many cases the true producers of the pharmaceutically relevant agents. Once these microorganisms are determined and cultivated outside the sponge tissue, they could be fermented for large-scale compound production. This in future could substantially increase the number of powerful sponge-derived drugs on the market.
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