A high-tech device that “smells” seawater is being used in the search for new medicines.
Marine organisms are constantly releasing invisible molecules under the ocean’s surface, say scientists.
They explained that some of the chemical clues reveal which creatures are nearby, while others could be used someday as medications.
The team has developed a proof-of-concept device that “sniffs” seawater, trapping dissolved compounds for analysis.
They have shown that it could “easily” concentrate molecules that are present in underwater caves and that it holds promise for drug discovery in fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs.
Study co-author Doctor Thierry Pérez said: “A drop of seawater is like a spoonful of dilute soup: it’s a complex broth of dissolved molecules from ocean-dwelling organisms.”
To identify what’s in the mixture, scientists need to capture and concentrate those molecules.
Buy many underwater environments are threatened, especially those with unique – and potentially bioactive -compounds.
Dr. Pérez and his colleagues at the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Continental Biodiversity and Ecology (IMBE) wanted to develop an underwater instrument that captures and enriches dissolved compounds produced by sponges and other marine organisms without harming their ecosystem.
The team created a waterproof device that could be easily handled by an underwater diver and that could pump seawater through disks, which have a similar feel and thickness as make-up remover pads.
Dr. Pérez said: “These disks adsorbed dissolved molecules for subsequent analysis.”
The team tested the instrument – called the In Situ Marine moleculE Logger, or “I-SMEL” – in 65-feet-deep Mediterranean Sea caves that contained a variety of massive sponges.
After sampling the water, the researchers assessed the captured compounds via mass spectrometry.
The compounds had diverse elemental compositions – and many had molecular structures that are unknown, according to the findings published in the journal ACS Central Science.
The researchers say it is “promising” for the discovery of new natural products.
Several metabolites, including brominated alkaloids and furanoterpenoids, captured from seawater were present in three sponge species that the researchers had examined in detail.
Dr. Pérez said: “In some cases, the system concentrated compounds released by sponges.
“For example, aeroplysinin-1 was approximately 20 times more abundant in the extracts from seawater than within a yellow cave-sponge extract.”
The research team say that “I-SMEL” represents a non-invasive way to capture molecules of interest to provide insights into an ecosystem’s health or detect new molecules for future drug discovery efforts.
Dr. Pérez added: “The next step is to adapt the device for autonomous long-term seawater filtration and remote operation in deeper water.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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