Compounds that may one day be used to treat inflammation and bacterial infections in humans have recently been discovered in seaweeds that endanger coral reefs off the coasts of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
The chemicals hold great biomedical potential, which researchers at the University of California in San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) now plan to study in detail. The research group was led by postdoctoral researcher Hyukjae Choi.
The investigator works in the lab of SIO Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical sciences, William Gerwick. The professor also holds an appointment with the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
According to the research group, cyanobacteria known for their negative effects of coral reefs produce a compound that shows promising properties in dealing with inflammation and bacterial infections.
A cyanobacterium is a photosynthetic organism of reduced dimensions, the team reports in the May 25 issue of the esteemed scientific journal Chemistry & Biology. This particular type of cyanobacteria was found in the National Park Pu'uhonua o H'onaunau, off the Kona coast of Hawaii, in 2008.
“In different arenas these compounds could be helpful, such as treating chronic inflammatory conditions for which we currently don't have really good medicines,” Gerwick says of the potential applications for the newly found chemical, according to Science Daily
“When we first found the bloom during routine surveys with the University of Hawaii we were concerned as it was clearly smothering the corals at one of the most popular dive sites in Hawaii,” explains SIO assistant professor and paper coauthor, Jennifer Smith.
“Observations in the field even suggested that the cyanobacteria may have been releasing some chemical that was causing the coral to bleach,” she adds. The cyanobacterium species in question is called Leptolyngbya crossbyana, and the compounds it produces are known as honaucins.
Past studies have revealed that these chemicals can control the development of bacterial colonies and populations, such as the ones that develop when infections occur in humans. In addition, they are very efficient at controlling and reducing inflammation.
“I think this finding is a nice illustration of how we need to look more deeply in our environment because even nuisance pests, as it turns out, are not just pests. It's a long road to go from this early-stage discovery to application in the clinic but it's the only road if we want new and more efficacious medicines,” Gerwick concludes.