Bacteria from the ocean floor can beat superbugs and cancer. But habitats are at risk from the hunger for marine minerals
hen Prof Mat Upton discovered a microbe from a deep-sea sponge was killing pathogenic bugs in his laboratory, he realised it could be a breakthrough in thefight against antibiotic resistant superbugs, which are responsible for thousands of deaths a year in the UK alone.
Further tests last year confirmed that an antibiotic from the sponge bacteria, found living more than 700 metres under the sea at the Rockall trough in the north-east Atlantic, was previously unknown to science, boosting its potential as a life-saving medicine.
But Upton, and other scientists who view the deep ocean and its wealth of unique and undocumented species as a prospecting ground for new medicines, fear such potential will be lost in the rush to exploit the deep sea’s equally rich metal and mineral resources.
Upton estimates it could take up to a decade for a newly discovered antibiotic to become a medicine – but the race towards commercial mining in the ocean abyss has already begun.
Nearest tube – Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station – Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle – ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45