Human World

Peter Moeller has discovered a bacteria-fighting sea sponge

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:
Peter Moeller
Research Chemist
National Ocean Service
Charleston, SC

Photo Credit: Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU

November 2, 2009
Human World

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