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Great Barrier Reef Holds Drug Key To Diseases


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Great Barrier Reef holds drug key to diseases

AN extraordinary underwater treasure trove of new species found off the Queensland coast could hold the key to miracle cures for hundreds of diseases.

Researchers on the Great Barrier Reef have found at least 500 new types of marine sponges, which produce chemicals that have already led to breakthroughs in fighting diseases such as AIDS.

But the clock is ticking to derive medicines from the sponges, as climate change and nutrient run-off from farmland threaten the future of the Reef.

Scientists will race to analyse the sponge chemicals to determine the benefits they can offer the medical world.

Marine sponges are the chemical factories of the sea, producing an amazing number of chemicals used as an armoury against predators and environmental impacts.

With medication such as AZT used to treat AIDS coming from a sponge, the new species confirm the Reef as a drugstore worth billions for pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The five-year project in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Torres Straits, one of the largest studies of its kind in the world, has opened an exciting array of possibilities for researchers.

About 1200 sponge species were found but only about half are thought to be already known to science.

Queensland Museum head of biodiversity John Hooper said yesterday the sponges would be studied for beta blockers - for heart disease - and for compounds to combat illnesses such as gastro-intestinal disease and cancer.

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