Medicines from the Sea


NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative

Oceans and Human Health

Coral Disease and Health Consortium

Medicines from the Deep Sea: Discoveries to Date


NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

The Coral Disease and health Consortium

North Carolina State University

Too Precious to Wear

Andrew3000/Marine Photobank

Wolcott Henry/Marine Photobank

Patty Debenham/SeaWeb

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NARRATOR: When you've got a bacterial infection like pink eye or strep throat, your doctor will usually write a prescription for antibiotics to make you feel better. But have you ever wondered where these medicines come from?

Most drugs come from flowers and plants on land, but finding new sources is difficult. And some bacteria have become resistant to a few of these drugs - so much in fact that these drugs don't work any more. The ocean - with its amazing biodiversity - offers many more organisms for scientists to discover and develop new medicines.

NOAA scientists have been collecting and studying sponges, corals, and other marine organisms. They and their partners discovered a chemical that breaks down the shield that bacteria use to protect themselves from antibiotics. Used as a helper drug, antibiotics that are no longer effective would once again be able to fight off these resistant bacteria.

NOAA scientists have also extracted chemicals from corals and sponges that fight some of the worst infectious bacteria. In order to make these new antibiotics, scientists make copies of these chemicals in a laboratory. This way they won't have to constantly harvest corals from the ocean, leaving our marine ecosystems healthy and intact.

The ocean may hold the key for finding new medicines, but not if we don't keep it - and everything that lives there - healthy and pollution free. Do your part to protect coral reefs. Do not buy coral jewelry or home d├ęcor. And when snorkeling, fishing, or scuba diving, be careful to not touch or disrupt coral beds or the sea floor. The next cure could be hidden there.