Deep-sea sponges antimicrobials

Title: Deep-sea discovery – mining marine environments for novel biologics

Funder and duration: Plymouth University and the Society for Applied Microbiology (£130,000) 2017 – 2020.

Lead partner: University of Plymouth

Location: United Kingdom

University of Plymouth staff: Professor Kerry Howell (Co-PI), Professor Mathew Upton (Co-PI), Dr Alistair Bishop, Dr Philip Warburton, Poppy Best, Matthew Koch.

The WHO have declared that antibiotic resistance is one of the major threats to human health. England's Chief Medical Officer has often raised this issue nationally and the topic was even highlighted at the G8 summit in June 2013. However, there is still a real need to discover novel antibiotics. Infections caused by drug resistant pathogens are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality and pan-resistant organisms are becoming less rare. The UK Government commissioned O'Neill review suggests that drug resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050 if we are not able to slow the development and spread of these infections.

Marine invertebrates have been identified as one of the most promising natural sources for future antibiotics. Sponges are, perhaps, the most prolific source of natural products with more than 7,000 bioactive compounds identified. Existing research has focused on shallow water species, but much of the world’s biodiversity is located in deep-sea regions and the potential resource that exists within this ecosystem is largely un-explored.

The aim of this research project was to identify and develop potential new antimicrobials produced by the microbiome of sponges that live in the deep sea. As well as screening for potential antimicrobials, the team were also on the lookout for other potential applications in the areas of cancer, immune deficiency and wound healing.

Deep-sea discovery - mining marine environments for novel biologics. Marine Conservation Research Group
Deep-sea discovery - mining marine environments for novel biologics. Marine Conservation Research Group

“The deep-sea is the least explored part of our planet, but may hold the key to solving some of our most pressing medical challenges.”

Professor Kerry Howell

“We believe that deep-sea sponges contain diverse populations of new cultivable and non-cultivable bacteria. These represent a substantial uncharacterised and untapped source of bioactive molecules which could help meet the urgent need for new antimicrobials and have other health benefit applications.”

Professor Mathew Upton