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ARCTIC ANTIBIOTICS

더 읽을거리 :
Micheil Page and Erin Willahan

Why the Arctic?

But why the Arctic? Why not the depths of the Amazon Basin? Or the peaks of the Himalayas? Certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is canvassing the world over for potential sources of new compounds for drug manufacturing in an ever-expanding field of research. But, the case for the Arctic is that it is a harsh environment throughout most of the year, reaching a minimum of -50℃/-58℉ in the dead of winter. These extremities have resulted in significant and unique adaptations in organisms that inhabit the region, and these adaptations may hold the key to new compounds and new medicines for the future.

Additionally, scientific knowledge of the Arctic is vastly incomplete in comparison to other regions of the world. With trends in the Arctic ice-sheet currently highlighting its decline, more and more of the region is available to be explored and potentially exploited. Additionally, about 80% of our oceans remains unmapped and unexplored. With such a significant degree of uncertainty as to what lies beneath its surface, the fact that the Arctic is mostly ocean makes it particularly compelling for researchers. Human progress has historically been driven by the unknown, and the limits to our knowledge of the Arctic are arguably helping to drive the campaigns to expand our knowledge of the region and its biotic inhabitants; more so when only 7 drugs based on marine resources are currently in circulation and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Leary, 2008).

Bioprospecting in the Arctic

Currently, several teams head out into the Arctic in a year to conduct ‘bioprospecting’ missions. Bioprospecting is the process by which research is organised to find organisms from which medicinal drugs and other commercially viable products can be obtained, often through the examination of microscopic flora and fauna and the characteristics they exhibit. In the case of the Arctic, many scientific excursions have found organisms that have evolved unique and unusually potent chemical defences that could be very useful for the development of new drugs and antibiotics (Krause, 2018). 

Since 2007, one such team from the MabCent project has spent more than a full year at sea and sampled from over 1,000 different locations around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. They have collected 1,200 different species of invertebrates and hundreds of species of microalgae, totalling more than 3,000 pounds of organisms. Although research may seem slow, having conducted missions for over a decade now, almost every time they return, they are hopeful. The Arctic can be a volatile and unpredictable region, and as such their plans can quickly be forced to change ? but when this leads to the discovery of new organisms, unpredictability can be for the better. The variables present in this large-scale experiment create opportunities for different findings each time, further facilitating the development of potential new antibiotics.

Possibilities for application of their research come in various shapes and forms: from potential implications for the development of cancer-treatment drugs, to enhancing the capacity of farmed livestock, and even methods for aquaculture management in cold climates (Leary, 2008). For example, a company called Biotec ASA applied for a patent for a protein in the Iceland Scallop (chlamys islandica) that could have uses in future antibiotics. It is important to identify, however, that the use of Arctic resources is not limited to bioprospecting in the ocean ? indeed it is also terrestrial. For instance, one patent from the Russian Federation includes the use of various arctic flora for use in medication for oral diseases, from Arctic Raspberry to Juniper trees.