Marine: The Ultimate Source of Bioactives and Drug Metabolites

Many marine natural products appear to arise from multi-functional enzymes that are also present in terrestrial systems, exhibiting a cross phylum activity with terrestrial biota. However, a large number of marine derived compounds also possess a substantial amount of functional groups, which were not previously described from terrestrial metabolites. They range from derivatives of amino acids and nucleosides to macrolides, porphyrins, terpenoids, aliphatic cyclic peroxides, and sterols. Microorganisms (amongst them mostly bacteria and fungi) have played an important role in providing new structures, like antibiotics for drug discovery and development. The terrestrial microbial populations are immensely diverse which is also reflected in the number of compounds and metabolites isolated from these microorganisms. Besides bacteria, marine fungi and deep-sea hydrothermal vent microorganisms are reported to produce bioactive compounds and metabolites.

Marine organisms have been found to be capable of providing solutions for major human diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, herpes and many others. With the rate of success and growth in this area, it is expected that the market for marine-derived pharmaceutical products will increase in the coming months rapidly and double by 2018.  Several of the marine organisms used for extracting drugs are deep sea bacteria, sponges, mollusks, fungi, and tunicates. Even with such strong R&D activities in marine organisms, it is believed that no more than 10% of organisms have been researched as potential candidates.

Bioactive compounds from marine flora and fauna have extensive past and present use in the treatment of many diseases and serve as compounds of interest both in their natural form and as templates for synthetic modification. Several molecules isolated from various marine organisms (microorganisms, algae, fungi, invertebrates, and vertebrates) are currently under study at an advanced stage of clinical trials, some of them have already been marketed as drugs. Marine environment is an exceptional reservoir of bioactive natural products, many of which exhibit structural/chemical features not found in terrestrial natural products. Marine organisms have evolved biochemical and physiological mechanisms that include the production of bioactive compounds for such purposes as reproduction, communication and protection against predation, infection and competition.

  • Marine organisms as a source of natural drugs
  • Sea weeds
  • Sessile organisms
  • Marine sponges and autotrophs
  • Terrestrial environments
  • Diversity of coral reefs

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