Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06751 5
There is increasing interest in using the resources of the marine environment for new and novel products. There are, however, some complex issues that may need to be worked through where there is use of Indigenous knowledge as part of biodiscovery.
Some of the research in progress includes:
- the observation that reef-building corals appeared to be protected against sunburn led to research at AIMS to show this was due to specialised amino acids with simple but very efficient light-absorbing ability. These compounds are found in many organisms, including sponges and sea anemones. Synthetic analogues of the compounds are now being tested in the hope that a commercial product can be produced.
- researchers at the University of Melbourne have studied southern Australian and Antarctic marine sponges, and are targeting metabolites that inhibit specific enzyme systems to develop safer, more specific drugs and agrichemicals (Capon et al. 1999).
- work at the University of New South Wales has identified a group of natural products from marine algae which deter the settlement and growth of fouling organisms. The compounds' ability to prevent bacteria forming biofilms is significant because biofilms are responsible for approximately 65% of all human infections, as well as creating a range of industrial problems. In cooperation with multinational organisations, commercial applications are being pursued including development of an antifouling paint and contact lens cleaning solutions.
- a collaborative research project between James Cook University and AIMS to produce a novel class of natural herbicides based on marine compounds has attracted $2 million of research and development funding from Nufarm Ltd. Several compounds have displayed selective herbicide activity that, if commercialised, would be valuable to farmers world-wide.
Once a commercial product is discovered, the molecule is either synthesised or grown in aquaculture systems.