A lot of work is going on at the BBSR to extract pharmaceutical information from certain marine life. Dr. Richard Owen is concerned about the pollution threats to marine life and to the ocean itself.
In the case of pharmaceutical development, the concept at BBSR is this, medical advances means identifying new ways of attacking diseases by finding where a desired process in nature is promoted or inhibited. Genomics gives BBSR scientists access to the entire genome of an organism thus providing them with new biological targets as well as potential promoters and inhibitors to aim at those targets. Genomics is the study of the genomes, a complete set of genetic blueprints of organisms.
Scientists are studying the biodiversity of the microbial community found in the pelagic ocean and in association with the benthic (ocean floor) organisms, such as sponges and corals. Corals are found here in Florida and in Bermuda. They are found in shallow waters where they can stay at the ocean floor and still receive sunlight. Corals are formed by millions of tiny sea animals called polyps. Polyps take calcium from the sea water and convert into limestone (calcium carbonate), with which they make “houses” around the lower halves of their bodies. When they die, the limestone “skeleton” remains. As more and more polyps grow on top of each other, they form a coral reef. Corals thrive in warm, shallow water (60? F) and no deeper than 45 meters. The algae that grows there need the sunlight to do photosynthesis and provide food and Oxygen for the coral animals to eat and breathe. Some reefs are thousands of feet thick because they have grown as the sea floor sank. Reefs are found off the coast of Australia, in the Caribbean Sea, off the eastern coast of the Florida, in Bermuda, Japan, Hawaii, and other places.
In the past, marine chemists did their bioprospecting by homogenizing large quantities of an organism like the sponge. When they found a valuable chemical they would then have to harvest large quantities. This process would be too damaging to the coral reefs. Now scientists can collect a small sample of sponge, extract DNA and clone it into a domestic strain. The cloned DNA contains all the blueprints necessary for biological synthesis of whatever chemical it was capable of producing. It is now possible to train the genetically engineered organism to produce large quantities of the sought after drug or chemical.
The sea is a vast natural farm that can produce great quantities of nutritious protein food, forever, if managed wisely. According to National Marine Fisheries, an arm of the United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientific knowledge allows us to increase the yield of food from the sea, to a limited extent with oysters. There are ideas as to how other fishery yields can also be improved. This can be done by: 1) adding nutrients (fertilizer) 2) transplanting marine animals from one place to another 3) breeding fish and shellfish for desirable characteristics. Fast growth, disease resistance and desirable flavor are some of the qualities that might be developed in this way. However, scientists need to know how to make their improvements while at the same time reducing the cost of catching fish and bringing them to market. (Jefress)
Fish are the main source of protein, needed as an important body builder. Fish and shellfish provide valuable vitamins; A, B, and D, oysters and shrimp are excellent sources of iron and copper (needed by our bodies in building blood), and they supply us with five times the magnesium and more phosphorus than is in milk. Seafood has 50-200 times as much iodine (needed to keep our thyroid glands functioning properly). (Jefress)
These nutrients have pharmaceutical value. They came to be in fish and shellfish by the “food chain” (the passing of nutrients from one animal or plant to another), the chain progressing from the simplest to the most complex organism. These nutrients, elements, minerals and organic compounds such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorine, iodine, boron, magnesium, calcium, silicon, protein, and carbohydrates have been recycling in the sea for eons. Floating sea animals and plants (plankton) use these nutrients to build their bodies. Juvenile fish, plankton-feeding fishes and many other sea animals live on plankton. These in turn, are fed on by larger carnivores such as tuna, halibut, sharks, and squids. It is important to realize that when sea animals die, the nutrients return to the sea (or remain, as in the case of coral) to be used by subsequent generations. We, being at the end of the food chain take these nutrients into our bodies. (Jefress)
Another valuable resource coming from the sea is our marine mammals: sea otters and fur seals - furs; gray whale and sea elephant - oil; walrus - ivory tusks; California sea-lion - entertainment. There are thousands of kinds of sponges. However, approximately one dozen is all that have commercial value. Two and one half tons were harvested in 1938, but this has fallen off because of disease among the sponges and the introduction of the synthetic sponge. Sponges contain unique chemicals that may have industrial or medical value some day. (Jefress)
Seaweed is another valuable resource found growing along our seacoasts. Japanese cook with it, but Americans do not use it much in their natural state. Americans, however, derive chemical and industrial products from seaweed, such as algin, agar, and carrageenin; which are used in foods such as ice cream, candies, and cake icings. In drugs: aspirin and antacid tablets and calamine lotions; in manufacturing processes: producing rubber textiles, acoustic tiles, and more commercial items. Mannitol, a seaweed derivative, is used in explosives and medicinal drugs. Along the coasts, over the Continental Shelves are the world’s most valuable fisheries. It behooves us to control and manage well, the industrialization of, the disposal of wastes from our cities and ships and, the dumping of nuclear waste into the sea. (Jefress)
Minerals have been accumulating in the sea for a billion or more years. Volcanic ash sifting into the rivers carries with it to the sea, chlorine, and sulfur. Undersea volcanoes supply boron, iodine, sulfur, and chlorine. Soil-laden waters carry calcium and silicon from weathering rock and eroding land, down to the sea. The sea holds 99% of the world’s bromine. Formerly, iodine came entirely from seaweed; now it is mined from brine deposits left when the great inland seas receded or obtained from underground water with oil-bearing rocks. Ancient seas, as their waters withdrew, left behind great salt beds, New York to Michigan; borax (SW), gypsum, magnesium, potash and magnesium, petroleum. (Jefress)
The question - Why is the sea salty? Most rivers drain into the sea and they have small amounts of dissolved salts. When the seawater evaporates, leaving salts behind, it falls on the land as rain or snow and returns to sea with more salt. Students will calculate the percent of salt in the “Sound” around us.
The BBSR is focusing some scientific work on the Bermuda scallop (Pecten Ziczac) and calico scallop (Argopecten gibbus). Constraints are the lack of an adequate sea water system and facilities for the culture of larval and post-larval stages of marine organisms. The scallop is a familiar bivalve with a fluted shell, two ear-like or wing-like projections and many vivid, blue eyes. It is a mollusk that is pretty to look at and good to eat. Its color varies with warmth of the water. The scallop sold in markets has a brown shell with gray and white markings; calico scallop is mottled; Pacific pink scallop ranges from pink to green; giant scallop of the Pacific has a purple-red upper shell and a white lower shell. Scallops swim in a jet-propelled fashion, by opening its valves to let water in and snapping shut the valves to propel itself forward.
The horseshoe crab’s ancestors evolved hundreds of million of years before the appearance of land plants, fish, insects, mammal, and man. They are not crustaceans, but thought to be closer relatives of the spiders. They breed in late spring. The “piggy-back” crab (Limulus Polyphemus) has a dark brown, rounded, shield-like shell which resembles a tank as it swims along. It has ten legs for walking, ten book gills behind the legs, a sharp telson tail without barb or stinger, used in locomotion and to right itself when flipped over. It has two “fake” eyes that cannot form images, but may be able to detect movement; two smaller centrally located eyes with a group of light sensitive cells under the shell, which help the crab to see and may be functional during the larval stage of development. Underneath its mouth are two short pincers and pairs of strong legs. It must move to eat. The first four pairs of legs lift the body and the flaps on the modified fifth pair open and push. They eat small mollusks (clams and snails), crustaceans (crabs and shrimp), polychaetes (worms), and other small bottom animals.
The crabs mate in spring. Males are smaller but have large pincers on the front legs by which to hold on to the female. The female spawns long stings of thousands of greenish eggs, which are 1/8 of an inch in diameter. The male fertilizes the eggs as they are laid. The eggs hatch in approximately five weeks. The larvae are 1/3 of an inch in diameter. They are still in the case, which inflates with water and looks like a bubble. It has no tail at this stage. It waves its legs upside down because it is top-heavy in the bubble. The crab lives off the yolk in the bubble while it grows. The bubbles are ruptured by sand grains and small, pale horseshoe crabs emerge. After the yolk is exhausted, the larva sheds its shell and acquires a tail. Only two of the book gills are present. After shedding many times, the rest of the book gills appear and the tail lengthens. Horseshoe crabs are bottom dwellers and are usually safe from heavy dredges during hibernation. (Jefress)
People are the principal enemy of the adult crab, but loggerhead turtles are known to prey on the crabs as well as gulls. Horseshoe crabs have been used for fertilizer and the egg-laden female used as eel bait. Some farmers have fed them to chickens and hogs even though both flesh and eggs have a fish flavor. “Crab” remains were used as the main ingredient in a boiled, summer dish. The telson tail was used as a fish spear. Its blood, however, contains several biochemical substances that have proven very useful in science and medicine. Lysate, from the blood is used in cancer research and to aid in diagnosing spinal meningitis. Other parts of the blood are valuable for other medical tests. Knowledge gained from the animal’s eyes have given new insights and vital information about human eye disorders that can cause tunnel vision, which can lead to total blindness. The horseshoe crab is not an endangered species, but its survival may be threatened by man. (Jefress)
The shark is another mammal that has some pharmaceutical value. Shark liver oil has been investigated for its effects on plasma cholesterol and lipoprotein in man
The shark has been part of the oceans’ life cycle for four hundred fifteen million years. There are over 350 shark species. One shark that is described in Amazing Sharks by Mel Berger is the Great White: it is 19’ long, weighs over 7 tons, and has rows of sharp teeth to catch and eat large sea animals. Mentioned are the hammerhead, gray reef which sometimes have remora (suckerfish) attached to it. More than on half the world’s sharks grow to less than 3 feet. The blue shark often has pilot fish swimming along with it. The giant-sized Carcharodon megalodon may have 20 rows of teeth. No 2 species have the same kind of teeth. Whale sharks feed on plankton, krill and small fish because its teeth are very small. Sand tiger sharks, like most sharks, can replace their teeth. A shark may lose as many as 30,000 teeth in its lifetime, but can replace a tooth within 24 hours. The cookie cutter shark is one of the smallest. It attaches itself to tuna, whales, dolphins and other sharks, cutting out its food with its large teeth. A shark must keep its mouth open to breathe and stay afloat. Nurse sharks can rest because they have muscles that help pump water over their gills like other fish. A shark’s shape is torpedo-like. That and 5 types of fins, help them swim efficiently in the water. Most fish have hard bone skeletons but sharks have cartilage like we have in our noses and ears.
Sharks, unlike most fish have denticles, not scales. Denticles are sharp and prickly, and made of the same materials as shark teeth. They point back toward the tail so the water flows smoothly over the shark’s skin. The shark’s skin is usually gray, blue, or brown and lighter on the underside. This camouflages the shark in the water. The lemon shark, Pacific angel shark, and carpet shark have spots, stripes or unusual patterns to help them blend with their surroundings. Some sharks reproduce pups inside their bodies. Others deposit mermaids’ purses, a thick leathery egg case on the bottom of the sea. Sharks’ senses of sight, hearing and smell are very sharp. So sharp is the sense of smell that they can detect a drop of blood a mile away. These keen senses help them hunt for food. Sharks locate their prey by electroreception (electrical impulses given off by the prey). They swallow their prey whole - no chewing. They eat about 2% of their body weight.
About 100 million sharks are killed each year for their body parts. Shark jaws are collectors’ items. Fins also bring a high price and are used to make a rare and expensive soup. Fishermen catch sharks in gill nets. The shark drowns because it cannot get out. It has to keep moving in order to live. Sharks eat sick, diseased and dying fish. This probably slows the spread of disease among ocean animals. Scientists believe that we can benefit from studying why and how the shark can survive injury, disease and pollution.
Whales, Orcas are a part of the dolphin family. They are not the largest of whales. They can grow to 33’ and weigh 13 tons. Orcas are black and white, but each has different markings. Even though they are able to stay submerged for long periods of time, they are mammals and must breathe air. The Orca’s tail is horizontal to the water’s surface, unlike fishtails. It can swim as fast as 24 miles per hour. Whales have blubber, which is why many of them are killed. This layer of fat lies below the whale’s outer skin and keeps it warm in the icy waters. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, whale oil taken from blubber includes many uses: Lubricant for heavy machinery, fuel, lamp burning, soap making, and the making of fatty alcohols and separating them from fatty acids, which are not edible. Orcas live together in family groups called pods, which sometimes has as many as 20 individual whales in it, and at times even up to 55 members. (Jefress)
Orcas are flesh eaters. They gather the shoals (large groups) of fish together and eat until they are full. Orcas also talk to one another. They make a variety of different noises: chirps, high-pitched whistles, buzzes and clicks. They use sound to locate their prey. They make a stream of signs that bounces back to them off of their prey, as echoes (echolocation). They mate at different times depending on their location. North Atlantic- October, November; North Pacific- spring/summer months. When babies are born, they first are taken to the surface for air, then mother feeds them milk. Calves are about 7’ and weigh 400 pounds. Orcas are playful. They sleep as they swim in half-hour dozes for six hours a day. No one knows why whales beach themselves (called stranding). Some Orcas are believed to be able to live for 50 - 60 years. Present dangers to Orcas are people, fishing nets and the careless dumping of toxic wastes in the sea. (Encyclopedia Brittannica)