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Biotech Earth Medicine Science Technology

'Treasure Trove' In Oceans May Bring Revolutions In Medicine and Industry 107

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-may-bring-sea-monsters dept.
dryriver sends this excerpt from the Guardian: "Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in our oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins. These tiny marine wonders offer a chance to exploit a vast pool of material that could be used to create innovative medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes, scientists say. Researchers have already created new enzymes for treating sewage and chemicals for making soaps from material they have found in ocean organisms. 'The potential for marine biotechnology is almost infinite,' says Curtis Suttle, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. 'It has become clear that most of the biological and genetic diversity on Earth is – by far – tied up in marine ecosystems, and in particular in their microbial components. By weight, more than 95% of all living organisms found in the oceans are microbial. This is an incredible resource.'"
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'Treasure Trove' In Oceans May Bring Revolutions In Medicine and Industry

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  • Death (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:15PM (#41946767)
    We'll wipe out all ocean life before we can fully reap the benefits.
  • Re:Industry? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by haruchai (17472) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:25PM (#41946805)

    Because you can patent it, sell it and use the profits to buy off, er, make generous campaign contributions.

  • by Qubit (100461) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:36PM (#41946843) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, was I being too cynical there?

    But actually, is someone going to try to patent the shit (read: actual shit) that comes out of the oceans? Because I think that they really might try...

  • Re:Industry? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:38PM (#41946861)
    You are entirely right! Industry prefers to have the government research it and then take the credit and profits for the research. Just like industry prefers to have small businesses take the risks and then steal the business and profit from them.
  • Re:Industry? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by r1348 (2567295) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:44PM (#41946885)

    Yes! Just like the Internet! Down with the government!

  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fm6 (162816) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:19PM (#41947021) Homepage Journal

    We've used up all the fish [nytimes.com]. Now we can work on the smaller stuff!

  • by jamesh (87723) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:40PM (#41947091)

    What does "almost infinite" even mean?

    Kind of like infinity, but just a little bit less.

    I've been doing a bit of work with pacemaker clusters lately, and infinity there is defined to be 1000000 [clusterlabs.org], so I guess "almost infinite" is around 999998.

    More likely, "almost infinite" means that obviously they know it's not actually infinite, but there are more than they'll ever get to analyse in their lifetimes so the difference doesn't have any meaning.

  • Yah, really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TexVex (669445) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:45PM (#41947109)
    I'm old enough to remember when the Rain Forest was the "treasure trove" of new medicines.

    Even then, the documentarians had the wit to point out that the main goal of researching all those new wonderful plant cures would be to figure out how they could create synthetic versions of nature's miracles and patent them.

    So, you know what? I don't give a shit. If somebody finds something revolutionary and decides to share it with humanity, then by all means please slap me around some and make sure I am aware of it. Because not even the invention of aspirin (developed from old common knowledge about the medicinal properties of willow bark) went without patent-related controversy.
  • by siddesu (698447) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:59PM (#41947167)
    In slightly more general numeric terms, finite is much below 9000, almost infinite is the interval from there up to and including 9000, and everything over 9000 is infinite.
  • Re:Industry? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gagol (583737) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:07PM (#41947211)
    Cause outside the US most people are covered by a good public health care program?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:22PM (#41947277)

    and not the bacteria (or other marine organisms etc.) theirselves are of interest.

    While some people point out the right problems (IP, patents, etc.) others seem to think that the researchers suggest '(over)fishing' the bacteria.
    Nope, they're only interesting as a source of yet unknown enzymes.
    But this is done everywhere, metagenomics (collecting 'just' DNA from soil/marine/etc. samples) is a new approach to make use of mother nature's diversity.
    (The cool thing about this approach is, while it's generally impossible to cultivate most of these organisms, as their habitat and environment are rather unknown, it's rather easy to "boil everything up" and sequence any remaining DNA. This approach is just getting possible by better possibilites in sequencing and bioinformatics)

    Having heard a lecture on the subject recently, I can tell you that these approaches are especially great as they rather quickly deliver working results:
    Imagine you wanted to perform a certain reaction by biotechnological means. There might be enzymes which do something similar, but not quite right - then it's nice if you can look for 'similars' in a large database and hopefully find one which better suits your means.
    For example could a marine micro organism from arctic regions contain enzymes especially optimized for colder temperatures.
    Imagine one of these in your laundry detergent, allowing even lower temperatures in the washing machine, saving energy and CO2 ... there you go, biotech saves the planet ;)

    From what I know, these JC Venter metagenomic sequences from marine samples are just deposited in public databases, and not yet patented. How could they? Without any further analysis or use, one can hardly file a patent.

  • Re:Death (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:27PM (#41947291) Journal

    Sorry guys, but you need to park that expanded self opinion someplace. Life on the planet is just fine. Hell, after the big asteroid hit, the earth was blasted, smothered, roasted, frozen, and left in the dark for month or years. Ten million years later an the diversity was extraordinary. We're the endangered species, and yeah we'll take out a slew of vertebrates with us.

  • Re:Yah, really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:50PM (#41947391)
    A more recent example than asprin would be Taxol/Paclitaxel [wikipedia.org]. Discovered in 1967 from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and useful in treating cancer.

    Anyway, stories such as these are to inform if you're interested. News for nerds and all that. You don't give a shit, that's fine. No one was expecting you to get off your couch and start helping search for the cure for cancer as a result of this story. So go back to whatever it was you were doing. Maybe reading about apple suing samsung or something exciting like that. The biology community apologizes for this not being as interesting as you would hope. We'll get back to searching the ends of the earth for the cure to cancer. We probably won't bother slapping you around if we find anything useful though. Just maybe think about supporting funding for the NIH or cancer research. As miraculous as taxol is (saved my mother's life, breast cancer), the side effects are tough. You really want us searching the oceans and rainforests for better drugs before you develop cancer yourself.
  • Re:Not allowed! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dasunt (249686) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @02:59AM (#41947973)

    Anyway, vegan since 15+ years and lacto-ovo-vegetarian since about 25 year here but European and I think Peta is lame and have never understood this nudity crap.

    Vegan, American, and still think PETA is lame.

    To put it in perspective for non-vegs, think of the most inane, zealous type of individual who supports the same political views as you do. The sort of individual who does more damage to your beliefs than the most ardent opponent. That's PETA in a nutshell.

  • Re:Industry? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @04:38PM (#41951617) Homepage

    And who paid to figure out if taxol worked and was safe? And how much did that cost? And how many other compounds did that company pay for clinical trials on which didn't pan out? The profits for taxol had to cover all of that.

    Taxol is a rare example of when government research actually led to a useful drug. Most compounds discovered in government labs turn out to not work, but of course you don't spend $5/pill for the products that don't work, so you're less likely to complain about those. The companies who develop them certainly spend money on them though.

    I'm all for having some end-to-end government R&D with the resulting compounds freely licensed to manufacturers in any country that reciprocates, but don't think that it will be any less expensive in the end then what we're paying for pills today. The main difference would be that the costs are borne by taxpayers rather than patients, which has the benefit of being more progressive.

    Government does some of the most important drug research there is. However, it also turns out to be some of the least expensive. There are still tons of expenses to be recouped once compounds are licensed or developed by a pharmaceutical company - and somebody has to pay for them. Most drugs lose money, and a few drugs make TONS of money. The industry has been pretty stagnant for a decade, so you can't just look at the one side of things.

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