Cyanobacteria or the blue-green algae are among the oldest inhabitants of Planet Earth. They have been recorded in fossils that are more than 3.5B years old. But more than its extended history on the planet, the cyanobacteria could have very immediate relevance for medical science. One species of blue-green algae has been found to produce a biochemical compound that has the potential for extended research and development as a drug for chemotherapy.
The new finding published by researchers in the National Academy of Sciences has explained that the gatorbulin-1 (GB1) compound obtained from a species of cyanobacteria found in the south of Florida could help in cancer cure.
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History scientists, along with researchers at the University of Florida have proved that studies into marine biodiversity could turn out to be a boon for medical science. The name, Gatobulin-1 is an honor to the University of Florida’s researchers and other global partners who helped in making this path-breaking discovery and also the characterization of the cyanobacteria.
Vast areas of the oceans remain unexplored and more creatures remain unknown than discovered by science. Dr. Hendrik Luesch at UF says that researchers are interested in areas with high biodiversity of marine life. An area teeming with biodiversity means that they are countless organisms that are fighting and communicating with the help of bioactive compounds which scientists can use in developing new drugs.
Cyanobacteria: A Mechanism Of Defense To A Drug For Cancer
The blue-green algae are unicellular organisms living both in the oceans and on land that is found throughout the planet. But their relationship with the immediate environment around them can be quite complex.
The cyanobacteria don’t have the usual defense mechanisms like teeth, claws, or other forms to defend them. They instead rely on chemicals to help them out in their fight against predators. these chemicals also serve a different purpose, they help the cyanobacteria communicate.
Chemical ecologist Dr. Valerie Paul studied the quorum sensing inhibitors in cyanobacteria. It is a series of compounds that influence the chemical signals which help the bacteria communicate. This process of communication by bacteria using chemical cues is termed quorum sensing.
Along with Luesch she examined the defense of the cyanobacteria and its communication compounds for signs of biomedical properties. They noticed the medical potential of the compound even before they had a chance to realize why the algae were using it.
In their latest study, they have said that gatorbulin-1 has been found to contain substantial anti-cancer action and has the capability to be turned into a novel anti-cancer drug. Both Paul and Luesch have found how gatorbulin-1 could help humans significantly. But they are yet to fully realize how the cyanobacteria itself uses the compound.
Paul says that while nature has previously augmented the use of such compounds, it remains unclear to researches the purpose it serves to the cyanobacteria.
The Journey Of Cyanobacteria From The Ocean To The Laboratory
Tentatively named Lyngbya confervoides, the cyanobacteria was first discovered a decade back when Paul was collecting the algae. She found that the cyanobacteria were producing different compounds and she sent them to Luesch for extended research.
But it is a long road from a discovery of a fresh compound and saying with clinical certainty that it contains the capability to fight cancer. That doesn’t take account of the time that it would take to finally convert the compound, and turn it into a functional drug after years of field trial and approval.
It begins with isolating the compound and proving its ability to destroy cancer cells. Luesch and his team then looked for a way to produce the isolated compound found in cyanobacteria in their laboratory. Recreating these natural forms of molecules in laboratories was a more convenient method of isolating and studying the compound.
Luesch and his team discovered that GB1 attacks a specific protein called tubulin in cancer cells. This is the one that cancer cells use at the time of cell division while also using it as an aid to building an inner scaffolding. Luesch and his team proved that GB1 targets tubulin in a novel way. They are now trying out ways to convert the protein into a drug in the fight against cancer.
Other organisms exist in the oceans that rely on chemicals as their defense mechanism. The immense biodiversity in the oceans translates to chemical diversity. This could aid researchers to find ways to develop new drugs.