A coral reef infested with cyanobacteria (dark). Photo courtesy of Jennifer Smith.
Seaweed may be a drug out of place
In the pristine waters of Pu’uhonua o H’onauau National Historical Park off the Kona coast of Hawaii, a kind of seaweed consisting of blue-green cyanobacteria is considered a pest and bane to indigenous corals, which are smothered and killed by the rubbery, bulbous bacterial colonies.
But almost nothing nasty in nature is without its upside, a fact underscored again in findings by researchers at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, who found that the cyanobacterium – Leptolyngbya crossbyana – produces chemical compounds that may provide the basis for new anti-inflammatory medicines and anti-bacterial treatments.
Writing in the journal Chemistry & Biology, Hyukjae Choi, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of William Gerwick and colleagues report that L. crossbyana secretes natural products known as honaucins, chemical compounds that control how and where the tiny algae grows and spreads.
If researchers can translate that natural talent into therapeutic drugs or treatments, they might be able to prevent at least some types of bacterial infections in humans or treat inflammation-related conditions like acne and arthritis.
“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,” said Gerwick. “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.”
You can read the entire UC San Diego news release here.