The blue farm: marine biodiscovery

Anti-cancer compounds from new species of sponges and sea squirts found in Western Australia will be trialed in a breast cancer screen at the WA Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR).

Such amazing marine discoveries are part of intensive marine research programs occurring along the WA coastline.

Dr Jane Fromont is the WA Museum’s Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates and one of the first people to see and catalogue the new marine species which arrive at her laboratory each day.

She sits at the helm of the new WA Bioresources Library – known as WAMBL, and set up as a WA Marine Science Institution project – which will store these new marine samples.

It is part of the broad marine research effort being coordinated by WAMSI to bring research results to all sections of the community, and particularly to medical research which had the capacity to create medical breakthroughs.

Dr Fromont said WAMBL had an interim access solution for drug discovery until a Biodiscovery Act was finalised for WA.

“To have legislation covering this would be our greatest wish,” she said, adding that WAMSI continued to negotiate to see the legislation introduced.

Speaking to a symposium at Fremantle today, she said medical research from new marine discoveries was leaping ahead.

“Part of that research is at UWA where the discovery of a compound from marine and estuarine bacteria that stops bacterial communication, could be used in the future to control bacterial infections,” she said.

“We hope to see the day when professionally-curated extracts can be used by State, national and international organisations.

“We house hundreds of specimens collected during the last 20 years, mostly by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the WA Museum, that can be used in biodiscovery research.

“We need to encourage the introduction of WA biotechnology legislation to improve biodiscovery research investment and exploration prospects.”

Ingredients from marine filter feeders such as sponges are already being used in cosmetics, medicine, sunscreens, antifoulants and industrial enzymes as part of a marine biotechnology industry now growing at 18 per cent a year.

WAMBL Project