The oceans still contain mysteries with the potential to help humanity. For example, scientists have discovered a sea sponge they say could help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Peter Moeller: What we found was a sponge growing in a pristine state. It was thriving in an environment that was dying – in fact, we found it in a dead reef. And we asked the question: how did this sponge exist in such a lousy environment?
That’s NOAA ocean chemist Peter Moeller. He’s referring to a sea sponge he and colleagues at North Carolina State University discovered in the Caribbean. Moeller said that the key to the sponge’s robust health was a powerful ability to fight off bacteria.
Peter Moeller: And what we found were some chemicals that essentially deter bacteria from settling on this sponge, so they can’t infect it.
Moeller said bacteria usually put up what he called a shield, or ‘biofilm,’ to protect themselves from being killed off.
Peter Moeller: So these chemicals proved very useful in taking away the shield that bacteria use for resistance.
He said that antibiotics currently ineffective in destroying certain kinds of bacteria – such as staph or tuberculosis – might be made effective in the presence of these sponge-derived chemicals. Moeller hopes to see his discoveries put to medical use in three to five years.
Peter Moeller: By removing this shield, we have re-sensitized, or made available, these bacteria to current generation antibiotics.
Our thanks to:
National Ocean Service
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.