A group of chemical compounds used by a species of tropical seaweed to ward off fungus attacks may have promising antimalarial properties for humans. The compounds are part of a unique chemical signaling system that seaweeds use to battle enemies and that may provide a wealth of potential new pharmaceutical compounds.
Using a novel analytical process, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that the complex antifungal molecules are not distributed evenly across the seaweed surfaces, but instead appear to be concentrated at specific locations possibly where an injury increases the risk of fungal infection.
A Georgia Tech scientist will report on the class of compounds, known as bromophycolides, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Feb. 21, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, is part of a long-term study of chemical signaling among organisms that are part of coral reef communities.
"The language of chemistry in the natural world has been around for billions of years, and it is crucial for the survival of these species," said Julia Kubanek, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Biology and School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "We can co-opt these chemical processes for human benefit in the form of new treatments for diseases that affect us."
More than a million people die each year from malaria, which is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The parasite has developed resistance to many antimalarial drugs and has begun to show resistance to artemisinin today's most important antimalarial drug. The stakes are high because half of the world's population is at risk for the disease.
"These molecules are promising leads for the treatment of malaria, and they operate through an interesting mechanism that we are studying," Kubanek explained. "There are only a couple of drugs left
|Contact: John Toon|
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News