No matter how sophisticated modern medicine becomes, common ailments like fungal infections can outrun the best of the world's antibiotics. In people with compromised immune systems (like premature babies, AIDS victims or those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer) the risk is very high: contracting a fungal infection can be deadly.
Now Tel Aviv University zoologists are diving deep into the sea to collect unique chemicals drugs of the future to beat unnecessary death by fungal infection. And their secret weapon is the common marine sponge.
Prof. Micha Ilan from the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, who is heading the project, has already identified several alternative antibiotic candidates among the unique compounds that help a sponge fend off predators and infections. He and his graduate students are now identifying, isolating and purifying those that could be the super-antibiotics of the future.
The research group at TAU has found and isolated thousands bacteria and fungi, including a few hundred unique actinobacteria. So far, several tens hold promise as new drugs.
From the Sea to the Lab
"Resistance to antibiotics has become an unbelievably difficult challenge for the medical community," says Prof. Ilan. "Sponges are known for hosting an arsenal of compounds that could work to fight infections. We're now culturing huge amounts of microorganisms, such as actinobacteria, that live in symbiosis with marine sponges."
Marine sponges were recently made famous by the popular Nickelodeon TV cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, which features a sea sponge who lives in a pineapple beneath the ocean. In real life, sea sponges are animals whose bodies consist of an outer thin layer of cells and an inner mass of cells and skeletal elements. The sedentary creatures don't really have the sort of adventurous life that the cartoon depicts.
Marine sponges can't move. Glued to the seafloor, they
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University