Science News

Anti-cancer Sponge Found After 20 Year Hunt

Sun, 23rd Nov 2003

Part of the show Genetically modified viruses for treating cancers

20 years ago marine scientists in the Bahamas found a small piece of a sea sponge that harboured a powerful anti-cancer agent. But the amount of sponge they had to work with was so tiny that only limited research could be done at the time. Over the last 2 decades they have been searching for the mystery sponges hideout in order to gather more samples to help them unlock the secret of its cancer killing agent. Despite many dives, only a few more fragments of he sponge were found, until now. Marine biologist Amy Wright pieced together clues from where each of the fragments of the sponge had been found to build up a profile of the habitat in which it must live. The technique worked perfectly – on the first dive to an area in the Bahamas fitting the profile that the scientists had come up with, they found the sponge that had eluded them for 20 years, and were able to collect enough samples to complete their research into its anti-cancer properties. The next step will be for the researchers to try to establish breeding colonies of the sponge under artificial conditions. They also solved the mystery of why the sponge was so hard to track down – the sponge lives in an area over 1000 feet down called the “dead zone” because so little lives there. Hunters had previously avoided the area because they thought it too unlikely a place to look.

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