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"ALL THAT WE DO," wrote Richard Wilbur, "is touched with ocean, yet we remain on the shore of what we know." Scientists searching the sea for new drugs to treat human diseases seem to take the poet's words as a given and a challenge.
More than 120 drugs developed from the traditional source, soil microorganisms, are used today to treat infectious diseases, cancer, and other ills. But a dramatic decline in discoveries based on soil microorganisms—more than 95% of new "drug leads" derived from them today turn out to be already known antibiotics—and increasing resistance to existing drugs, has led enterprising investigators to search the waters of the earth for medically useful microbes.
"Marine microorganisms are, by comparison [with soil organisms], poorly known biologically," observes William Fenical, PhD, professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Center for Marine Biotechnology and Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, in
Goldsmith MF. Researchers Look Forward to Sea Granting Gifts. JAMA. 1996;275(13):975-977. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530370013003