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Biotech Earth Medicine Science Technology

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

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
    We'll wipe out all ocean life before we can fully reap the benefits.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We'll wipe out all planet life before we can fully reap the benefits.

      • Re:Death (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet@got . n et> 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: (Score:3, Funny)

          Hell, after the big asteroid hit, the earth was blasted, smothered, roasted, frozen, and left in the dark for month or years.

          Asteroid? Asteroid? You Late Cretaceous sissies, you young whippersnappers, if you had any idea what happened to us in the Permian, you'd shut up and look away in embarrassment. You have no idea what killed us. Heck, we don't even have an idea what killed us!

          Sincerely yours, Gorgonops from south-western Pangaea.

        • by Raenex ( 947668 )

          We're the endangered species

          Nope. Humans are too smart and adaptable.

          • HAhahahahahahahahahahhahahaah....

            Ow, my sides.

            • by Raenex ( 947668 )

              Laugh all you want, but the facts speak for themselves. The population has grown to billions of people and we live in all kinds of environments. Of course it's popular to be self-loathing and cynical on Slashdot, facts be damned.

  • by jomegat ( 706411 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:27PM (#41946813)
    What does "almost infinite" even mean?
    • by lessthan ( 977374 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:42PM (#41946877)

      Almost infinite means nearly limitless. Does that help?

      • Yes. It means that it'll take some time for them to patent everything.

    • Re:Almost infinite? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jwsmy[ ].com ['the' in gap]> on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:44PM (#41946879) Homepage Journal

          It means that we'll farm it to the edge of extinction, and then ponder what happened to them all... Kinda like...

      Hunting whales for blubber, and then wondering why there whales are almost extinct. []

      Using pesticide on virtually everything, and then wondering why bees are dying off. []

      Farming marginally arid land, and being surprised by the result. []

      I'm not an environmentalist wingnut. Sometimes the answer to "what could possibly go wrong" is really obvious.

      • Re:Almost infinite? (Score:5, Informative)

        by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:31PM (#41947079) Homepage Journal

        I thoroughly agree with the point you're trying to make. But note that pesticides are not that strongly implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem is unknown in Australia, where pesticides are just as heavily used as anywhere else. It is extremely likely that it's due to some kind of environmental stress, which fits in with your abuse-of-resources theme.

        • Re:Almost infinite? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @10:59PM (#41947165)

          The problem is unknown in Australia, where pesticides are just as heavily used as anywhere else

          Pesticides have been expensive in Australia due to few suppliers having close to a monopoly so they might be used less than some other places, plus there were some deaths from overexposure decades ago that got a lot of press and seem to have had farm workers take care with concentrations ever since. There is also a lot of uncleared land so pesticide use may be in "islands" surrounded by the whole instead of the other way around in as in other places more intensively farmed.

          Also, what would be called "organic" in some places is the norm for some things in Australia since the plant that comes from overseas may not have a local pest. For some things, a physical barrier (tunnel houses or bags around bananas) does the job without pesticides but that is relatively recent and may be part of chasing after an "organic" label and not widespread.

          However there are some places in Australia where pesticides have been used a lot but there are still plenty of bees, so even if pesticides are used less on average in Australia than other places it still doesn't tell us anything about the bees.

          • by fm6 ( 162816 )

            One theory I've heard is that the huge demand for pollination services in most countries has kept beekeeper moving their hives around all the time, often transporting them thousands of miles at a time. This stresses the colonies and makes them susceptible to a variety of ailments. This practice is supposed to be much less prevalent in Oz. This is consistent with the fact that there's no obvious link between CCD and any single external factor.

            None of which should be construed as a defense of indiscriminate u

        • by deimtee ( 762122 )
          It's pretty well established that it's neonicotinoid insecticides. Bees are very sensitive to them, and even amounts too small to directly kill the bees still weaken them enough for other things to kill the hives.
          • by fm6 ( 162816 )

            The sources I've read say otherwise. We can have a link duel if you want, but I find them boring.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          The latest theory is "zombees". []

          • by fm6 ( 162816 )

            A little more care with your URLs?

            From the site: "CCD probably is caused by multiple contributing factors including pathogens, parasites and pesticides. Honey bees parasitized by Apocephalus borealis abandon their hive, a behavior associated with CCD. One of our goals is to determine how big a role, if any, the fly plays in hive losses in various parts of North America."

        • According to the wiki page, USDA research says that pesticides may be implicated in CCD. There's a long list of suspected causes on that page but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the real cause is currently unkown.
      • by aliquis ( 678370 )

        Guess Slipknot got this one right: []

    • 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 [], 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.

    • by Genda ( 560240 )

      Infinite minus 5...

    • Think of it as approaching the unreachable speed of light..
    • it means there aren't enough fingers/toes even when I line up ALL my grad students to count that high!
    • by chill ( 34294 )

      Now you know what that little "infinity minus 1" symbol used in math class really means.

      I always wondered.

  • 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...

    • Interesting you should say that. Cos (from TFA) one of the people sampling bacteria from around the coastlines of the US and South America is Craig Venter, the bloke who led the effort to sequence and privatise the human genome. So yeah, at least one person IS trying to do exactly that.
  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:38PM (#41946859)
    Too bad PETA will not allow us to exploit bacteria in this cruel manner. You have to ask their permission first. Individually.
    • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

      I'm okay with PETA. Yes, they are mildly annoying, but they more than make up for it in sheer amusement [] and very compelling PSA pictures [].

      • by aliquis ( 678370 )

        Regarding the later picture I suppose fatter and older chicks.

        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.

        Guess it may be how US society and culture work but it's lame. "Look! Nude chick! I agree! Chicks should be nude!"

        Over here the information would be about actual animals. And back in the good days people would --removed due to shitty spying governments-- than get nekkid.

        • 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.

  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

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

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

  • 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.
    • I'm old enough to remember when the Rain Forest was the "treasure trove" of new medicines.

      Novel approach:
      1. take an almost infinite number of monkeys and have them hammer out sequences of GATC to create a vast pool of previously unknown genes,
      2. ...
      3. treasure trove.

    • figure out how they could create synthetic versions of nature's miracles and patent them.

      We have too many frivolous patents, but not all patents are frivolous. If someone goes to the trouble and expense of identifying a naturally occurring chemical, finding a disease that it cures, and figures out how to synthesize and apply it, that is not frivolous. Encouraging that kind of investment in research is exactly why we have patents.

    • 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 []. 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.
    • You too? These articles tend to pop up every 5 or 10 years. I remember when they thought there was going to be all kinds of stuff from coral reefs.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      The problem with what you suggest is who is going to pay for it? Finding neat new molecules/ideas is interesting and exciting, so academics tend to be interested in this and the NIH tends to fund it. Figuring out if those new molecules/ideas actually work or if they cause cancer is boring and expensive, so that doesn't get funded, except by corporations who of course patent them. Actually, more often the model is that the universities that come up with them patent them and sell them to corporations to he

      • by TexVex ( 669445 )
        I would be okay with having government funded pure research, with its results becoming public domain. We share the cost and the risk, and we share the reward.

        Each and every one of us benefit every day by discoveries fellow humans have made dating back to the discovery of flint spearheads and controlling fire. Can you imagine where the human species would be if the first people to hammer on flint rocks made a trade secret of their discoveries?

        We'd probably be extinct.

        I think I can be sort-of ok with
        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          The cost of life-saving medicines comes from the fact that to know that they are life saving medicines you need to have thousands of people take the pills for a year or two and give them a barrage of tests to see if they get better, or for that matter worse. Oh, and you have to do that on dozens of experimental compounds to find one that works, because most don't. Oh, and you have to bribe, err compensate, the doctors for all those patients or they won't even mention to them that the experimental treatmen

  • by Andy Prough ( 2730467 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:01PM (#41947177)
    I for one welcome our nearly infinite sea-faring microbial overlords.
  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @11:16PM (#41947255)
    Craig Venter [] also did this in the not-so-distant past after working on the Human Genome Project. It was called the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition (GOSE) which was an ocean exploration genome project [].

    GOSE also aimed to trawl the bio-diversity of marine life in order to perform metagenomics [] analysis and find out about the diversity of marine genetic material. All of the data was put into UC-San-Diego's division of Cal-I-T2 (a href=>California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology

  • 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.

  • Investigate the regenerative properties of some sea slugs?
  • Am I the only one finds the last statement "This is an incredible resource!" depressing?! Is everything always measured by how it can be of use and profit us people? I firmly believe that before long the only organisms left on earth will be the ones humans couldn't find ANY use for -- and the list does not include other humans.
    • by EzInKy ( 115248 )

      You probably are being as how the by definition survival of the fittest means you must be fit to survive. If the predominte organism on the planet finds another organism is useful to them they will do anything they can do make sure it's competitors do not survive. Your firm belief has no real basis in reality.

  • As usual, the scientists FAIL to point out that the overwhelming majority of these 'tiny marine wonders' are of no practical use whatsoever. They swim around doing worthless and pointless things, they are comprised of useless and ridiculous materials you could find anywhere. Their genetic code, though voluminous and subtle, lacks any hint of cohesive plot interest and character development and reading it is a real waste of time. As usual we are supposed to imagine some cornucopia of miracle medicines emanat

  • It's all fun and games until you start trying to harvest Cthulhu. Then what?

  • In other news, Poseidon has just decreed the Digital Marine Copyright Act, which expressly forbids oceanic IP theft and DNA reverse engineering by land dwellers.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Sunday November 11, 2012 @10:12AM (#41949109) Journal
    Some tiny startup is planning to go hunting for sugar daddy venture capital. They have hired some PR firm to plant fluff pieces to create a buzz. Probably the same firm that cleaned up on "treasure trove of genetic goodies in the rain forest" crowd. They never change the modus operandi. What worked once will always work again.
  • ... lets leak more Radioactive waste and other garbage into the oceans....while we continue to deforest rain forest... Gotta love Capitalism extremism .....

    There is another option.... See article starting on page 73 []

    Simply put... brain/mind change is required for us to not destroy ourselves.

    Old dogs can learn new tricks...

  • 90% of the cells in your body are alien bacteria from more than a thousand species. These do some essential functions like create vitamins and nutrients were cannot ourselves.
  • "Scientists discover a treasure trove of ocean life that could find cures for cancer and .... ah shit too late, we destroyed it already".

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein