Genetic Yacht Lab Maps Sea Life Off
Florida Looking For Cures
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[May 08, 2014]
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A team of
scientists has begun collecting the genomes of sea creatures off the
Florida coast in the hopes that unmapped species, some of which have the
capacity to reverse disease and injury in themselves, may hold the key
to new treatments for humans.
Of about 250,000 marine species identified so far, scientists have
sequenced the genetic material of only about three dozen, according
to University of Florida neuroscientist Leonid Moroz.
To speed up the process of making potential new discoveries, a team
led by Moroz used a yacht loaded with a fully equipped genomic
laboratory to do the sequencing on the ocean in real time.
The scientists sequenced 22 organisms during two test runs off
Florida's Atlantic coast near the Bahamas over two weeks ending in
early April, Moroz said.
“If we could get a fleet of ships doing this, we could double our
knowledge of the ocean in a year or two,” Moroz said.
Moroz specializes in comb jellies which he said are able to heal
wounds in two to three hours and regenerate their brains in three to
Before the shipboard lab, fragile organisms plucked from the ocean
often arrived dead or degraded at land-based laboratories. One
specimen tested on the ship was so delicate Moroz said he had to
scoop it in a plastic bag.
Moroz said he used a personal genome machine system linked via
satellite to a University of Florida supercomputer to get results
U.F. alumnus and engineer Steven Sablotsky of Miami donated the use
of his 141-foot specially equipped yacht, Copasetic, for two trial
runs, also supported by NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the
National Science Foundation, and the Florida Biodiversity Institute
located in the Florida keys.
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Moroz also teamed with Gustav Paulay, the leading expert in tropical
biodiversity and a curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History,
who joined the trips.
Nearly half of the drugs in use today are derived from nature but
Moroz sees the work as a race against time as the planet loses a
species to extinction every six hours. Given that the oceans make up
70 percent of the Earth's surface, Moroz said scientists estimate
the ocean could yield 14 to 20 million new compounds.
“We not only need to do it in principle, we need to do it fast,” he
(Editing by David Adams and James Dalgleish)
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