Benthic Biodiversity

Evans peak reef ROV collections Evans peak reef
Evans peak reef Evans peak reef ROV collections

from the Agulhas Bioregion as a source of new pharmaceuticals

Principal Investigator: Professor Rosemary Dorrington (Rhodes University)

More than half of new pharmaceutical drugs on the market or in clinical trials are derived from natural products and their by-products. The majority of these are secondary metabolites, or organic compounds, produced by marine organisms such as sponges and ascidians, algae and bacteria, as a chemical defence against predation and diseasecausing pathogens. These small molecules, known as marine natural products, are highly selective and potent inhibitors of their biological targets, making them excellent lead compounds for pharmaceutical development as anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anticancer drugs.

This project seeks to explore the potential for the production of novel bioactive small molecules by marine organisms of the biodiversity-rich Agulhas Bioregion off the south-east coast of South Africa. The research aims to extend knowledge of the macro- and microorganism diversity of coastal shelf reef and soft sediment habitats at depths of between 30 m – 100 m. Almost nothing is known about these benthic communities because they are found beyond the reach of SCUBA divers and require specialized remote operating research equipment to gather data and collect samples. These hurdles can now be overcome by making use of facilities provided by the ACEP and NRF-SAEON research platforms. The study has revealed significant numbers of as yet undescribed invertebrate and tunicate taxa that are associated with complex and diverse microbial communities that have the potential for producing novel bioactive compounds.