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UCC Researchers Part of EU Project to Tap Oceans for New Medicines

5th November 2021
UCC researchers Prof Alan Dobson and Dr David Clarke involved in EU project to tap oceans for new medicines
Prof Alan Dobson and Dr David Clarke are involved in EU project to tap oceans for new medicines

New antibiotics in the world’s oceans and the curative properties of marine animals like sponges will be explored in a European project involving researchers at University College Cork (UCC).

The EU has awarded a total of €7.5 million under its Horizon 2020 programme to the research into the largely unknown potential of the world’s oceans in protecting people, animals and crops from disease.

The Marine Biodiversity as Sustainable Resource of Disease-Suppressive Microbes and Bioprotectants for Aquaculture and Crop Diseases project, as it is officially known, has been given the name “Marbles”.

The research team will look specifically for new antibiotics and anti-fungals as well as microbes that can serve as “bio-protectants” in agriculture and aquaculture.

Synthetic chemicals currently used in pharmaceutical, agriculture and aquaculture have a devastating impact on marine life and this research is looking for sustainable solutions, according to the UCC research team.

The project will assess the potential of microorganisms derived from marine sponges, microalgae and fish for disease suppression.

They explain that “disease-suppressive” microorganisms will be drawn from "microbiomes", the complex collection of microorganisms that live in and around their marine hosts.

The world’s growing population and the current climate and biodiversity crises are driving the need to harness new compounds with pharmaceutical and nutritional applications sustainably, the UCC team says.

Prof Alan Dobson and Dr David Clarke from the UCC School of Microbiology and the Environmental Research Institute said that they were particularly excited about collaborating with the other 13 European partners from both academia and industry.

One project they hope to focus on involves isolating and genetically characterising disease suppressive microorganisms from the microbiome of Atlantic salmon.

These may then be generated into cocktails of microbial consortia, which could then be used either within fish feed as probiotics, or applied externally to boost the skin’s immune response in the salmon, they state.

This will improve disease control and overall fish health, and should decrease the dependency of using antibiotics in fish aquaculture systems while also reducing the potential spread of antimicrobial resistance in aquatic ecosystems, they state.

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

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At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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