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Micro-plants yield pharmaceutical new wave



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MICRO-PLANTS YIELD PHARMACEUTICAL NEW WAVE

C om pounds w ith a n ti-c a n c e r p ro p e rtie s and p o te n tia l fo r use in new g e n e ra tio n a n tib io tic s and n u tritio n a l s u p p le m e n ts have been fo u n d in tin y marine plants aroun d A u s tra lia ’s c o a stlin e .

M icroalgae — single-cell marine plants at th e base o f th e ocean fo o d chain — pro d u ce a range o f bio ch e m ica ls w ith e x c itin g p o te n tia l, say researchers.

A u s tra lia n m ic ro a lg a e are g e n e tic a lly and b io c h e m ic a lly d iffe re n t from m icroalgae fo u n d in oceans elsewhere, says Dr Susan Blackburn o f CSIRO’s C o lle ctio n fo r Living M icroalgae.

“ T h a t means th a t while our m icroalgae may look th e same, it does con tain unique co m pou nds w ith the p o te n tia l to solve fu tu re needs fo r drugs, including a n ti-c a n c e r a g e n ts and u rg e n tly -n e e d e d a n tib io tic s ,” says Dr Blackburn w ho has been in v e s tig a tin g th e p ro p e rtie s o f m icroalgae fo r 2 0 years.

Dr B lackburn said th e tw o year p ro je c t is p a rt o f a n a tio n a l c o lla b o ra tiv e

s u p e r- p ro je c t called th e “ B io a c tiv e M o le c u le ’s In it ia t iv e ” in v o lv in g six CSIRO Divisions, encom passing th e s tre n g th s o f CSIRO b io te c h n o lo g y w ith a major focu s being marine bio te ch n o lo g y.

The re c e n t d isco ve ry o f th e s e b io lo g ic a lly -a c tiv e co m pou nds in certain A u stra lia n m icro alga e h ig h lig h ts th e p o te n tia l fo r a new b io te c h n o lo g y dim ension fo r A u s tra lia ’s oceans, she said.

“ A u s tra lia ’s oceans are immense, and while we are beginning to understan d m ore a b o u t its physical c o n d itio n s and th e large cre a tu re s th a t live in it such

as whales, do lphin s and fish, th e re is a v a s t a rra y o f life at th e m ic ro s c o p ic

level t h a t is n o t well u n d e rs to o d a t a ll.”

“ Yet fro m th e fe w m icroalgae th a t have been studied, com pounds w ith s ig n ific a n t human health b e n e fits as p h a rm a ce u tica ls — a n ti-ca n ce r, a n tib io tic and im proved heart fu n ctio n drugs— have been fo u n d .”

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“ Th ese tin y p la n ts are unique packages o f all th e c o m p o n e n ts needed t o s u p p o rt life, and are th e r e fo r e a tre m e n d o u s s o u rc e o f u n ta p p e d b io c h e m ic a ls w ith h e a lth b e n e fits and w e a lth -g e n e ra tin g p o te n tia l. T h e re is no reason w h y o u r oce ans c a n n o t de live r t o th e w o rld th e sam e rich c o n tr ib u tio n o f

p h a rm a c e u tic a ls as th a t made fro m th e p la n t life o f th e A m a z o n B asin.”

Humans have been e x tra c tin g drugs from pla nts on land fo r th o u s a n d s o f years, and m a ny o f t o d a y ’s drugs are p la n t-d e riv e d , y e t th e p o te n tia l o f th e o c e a n ’s

p la n ts is on ly n o w being d isco ve re d , she says.

The CSIRO C o lle ctio n fo r Livin g M icro alga e holds o v e r 7 0 0 spe cies o f m ic ro a lg a e in th e c o lle c tio n , w h ich is th e la rg e s t o f its ty p e in A u s tra lia and

one o f th e la rg e s t in th e w orld. Dr Blackburn e s tim a te s th e re cou ld be

th o u s a n d s o f d if f e r e n t m ic ro a lg a e in A u s tr a lia ’s oce an t e r r it o r ie s w h ich , a t 1 6

m illion sq u a re k ilo m e tre s , c o v e r tw ic e th e size o f th e n a t io n ’s landm ass.

M icro a lg a e fro m th e c o lle c tio n is p r e s e n tly used t h r o u g h o u t A u s tra lia in th e

fo r m u la tio n o f crucial live fe e d s fo r y o u n g a q u a c u ltu re species such as

o y s te rs , praw ns and abalone.

The hum an h e a lth b e n e fits o f m icro a lg a e are a re la tiv e ly new d e v e lo p m e n t, w ith o n ly a b o u t th re e m icro a lg a e sp e cie s b e in g c u ltu re d fo r n u tric e u tic a l

p ro d u c tio n in te rn a tio n a lly , s u p p ly in g larg e m a rk e ts in Asia and A m e ric a . A u s tra lia n m a n u fa c tu r e rs are also s u p p ly in g th e n u tr ic e u tc a l m a rk e t w ith b e ta c a ro te n e and o th e r com pounds derived from m icroalgae.

“ Given th e large n u m b e r o f species o f m icro a lg a e in th e w o r ld ’s oce ans and th e

v e ry fe w b e in g used fo r th e ir p h a rm a c e u tic a l, n u tric e u tic a l and o th e r

p r o p e rtie s , m ic ro a lg a e are a v e r y u n d e r -u tilis e d re s o u rc e w o r ld - w id e ,” she says.

“ The m ic ro a lg a e c o m p o n e n t o f th e CSIRO B io a c tiv e M o le cules In itia tiv e c o m b in e s a unique natural re s o u rc e w ith leading edge b io te c h n o lo g y which allow s novel ch e m ica ls t o be m o d ifie d or s y n th e s is e d fro m co m p o u n d s fo u n d in s h o r t su p p ly in n a tu r e .”

Research will in v e s tig a te th e p o te n tia l o f m ic ro a lg a e as a so u rce o f c o m p o u n d s t o c o m b a t key human h e alth issues such as m alaria and viruses.

By g ro w in g and h a rv e s tin g th e m icro alga e t h a t p ro d u ce th e s e che m icals we are h a rne ssing th e p o te n tia l o f our m arine e n v iro n m e n t in a w ay t h a t is v e ry clean

and green - p r o te c t in g th e na tu ra l re so u rce while gaining value fro m th e

re m a rk a b le d iv e rs ity th e oce a n s o ffe r.

M ore information from: Dr Susan Blackburn 03 6 2 3 2 5 3 0 7

Katherine Johnson 03 6 2 3 2 5 7 7 3.

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