The Ocean has long been touted as a potential source for life-saving medicines – and as medical researchers continue their efforts to improve human health, the belief that the Earth’s seas could harbour novel disease-fighting chemistry is garnering more attention than ever before.
With new and unprecedented viruses such as Covid-19 coming to light, for which there is currently no approved treatment or vaccine, it’s little wonder that this vast space, which takes up 71% per cent of the space on our Earth, has become a topic of many a medical-themed conversation in recent years.
Currently, we know less about the deepest depths of our Ocean than we do about the surface of Mars. It was recently revealed that one fifth of the Ocean floor has been mapped, which is a huge advance in discovering what truly lies beneath – but with so much still to be discovered, it leaves a huge question mark over what role the Ocean might have to play in our health in years to come.
One thing we do know is that life in the sea has developed and evolved a unique portfolio of chemicals to defend itself and aid communication. For instance, animals such as corals, which are anchored to the floor and do not have armour plating, need to find other ways to defend themselves, and so chemicals have become their weapon of choice.
Many Ocean animals have relatively primitive immune systems, and some live in overcrowded habitats, such as coral reefs, where defending themselves is a full-time job. Organisms in the sea must, for various reasons, attract some organisms whilst repelling others, as well as coordinating reproduction – all processes that require active biological molecules.
Animals and plants that dwell in the ocean sit and swim in a bath of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms intent on turning them into a meal or a home.
This diversity of threats has forced evolution to mount increasingly complex chemical battles, and begs the question as to whether these advances could have a role to play in our pharmaceutical industry. Could the cure for Coronavirus, or even cancer, have been lying at the bottom of our Ocean all along?
The answer, unfortunately, is that only time will tell. But one thing we do know is that it is vital that we protect and preserve our Ocean’s health if we’re to ever find out.