Among the many resources the sea offers humans are drugs—including life-saving cancer drugs—derived from marine organisms. Unfortunately, the process for developing such drugs is complicated, expensive and time-consuming, making it impractical to take better advantage of this rich resource. Breakthrough: Thanks to cutting-edge new technology, scientists were able to dramatically shorten the research process…and discovered compounds that can treat skin cancer and a deadly skin infection in a common type of seaweed.

Normally, it takes up to four years to discover and identify bioactive compounds extracted from algae that might be effective against human diseases. But research scientists at Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, used automated computer algorithms to map and analyze the massive chemical and molecular complexity of a type of seaweed called bladder wrack in just months. The algorithms also allowed the team to quickly and accurately identify known and new compounds…and to predict the bioactivity of molecules.

Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) is a brown alga that grows along coastlines of many oceans, including Kiel Fjord, an inlet of the Baltic Sea in Germany and the source for the bladder wrack used in the study. Bladder wrack and other algae living in intertidal zones of oceans develop protective molecules to defend against constant attack from millions of microorganisms found in seawater. Some of these molecules also happen to be active against human bacteria.

Study results: Some of the molecules in bladder wrack were found to inhibit the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), skin bacteria that cause a potentially deadly infection. In another study, the researchers also examined the symbiotic fungi called Pyrenochaetopsis that naturally grow on bladder wrack and found important bioactive microorganisms that were able to efficiently kill melanoma skin cancer cells.

The researchers pointed out that bladder wrack’s therapeutic potential is not limited to drugs. The seaweed is edible and also could be used to make food supplements.

They further predicted that computer-aided learning tools such as used in their study will accelerate the discovery of other active marine compounds that can be used for drug development—and may lead to an unprecedented number of new medications.

Source: Studies titled “Bioactive Molecular Networking for Mapping the Antimicrobial Constituents of the Baltic Brown Alga Fucus vesiculosus” and “Pyrenosetin D, a New Pentacyclic Decalinoyltetramic Acid Derivative from the Algicolous Fungus Pyrenochaetopsis sp. FVE-087,” both by researchers at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany, published in Marine Drugs.