NOAA 03-R445
Contact: Fred Gorell
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Mission: To Identify Chemicals From Marine Organisms to Treat Human Diseases

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is supporting a team of “bioprospecting” scientists on a mission to the West Florida Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico to find marine organisms with chemical compounds capable of treating human diseases. The expedition is funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration (OE).

The exploration team includes researchers from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI), scientist/coordinators from NOAA/OE, operators for the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Innovator, and an educator from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. The mission is scheduled to depart the Port of St. Petersburg, Fla., early in the week of Sept. 8th on board the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown, a 274-foot vessel that conducts worldwide oceanographic and atmospheric research.

“We know so little about something so vitally important to us as our oceans,” said Jeremy Potter, NOAA’s coordinator for the expedition. “With 95 percent of our oceans unexplored – unseen by human eyes – ocean expeditions such as this help answer some questions, but they often surprise us with new questions and new mysteries to solve. Those solutions have the potential to change our lives.”

Marine sponges found by HBOI in previous expeditions have led to the development of valuable pharmaceutical products, including an anti-inflammatory agent and a cancer-fighting drug now in human trials. The scientific team will explore a variety of ocean habitats including decommissioned oil rigs, towers of coral that rise hundreds of feet from the ocean floor and a limestone ledge that 15,000 years ago was the shoreline of Florida’s west coast. They are searching for new organisms that produce chemicals to fight diseases, and they are excited about the possibilities.

“Basically, no research has been done on the biomedical potential of Gulf of Mexico deep sea resources,” said John Reed, mission coordinator for HBOI’s Division of Biomedical Marine Research (DBMR). The bio-prospecting expedition is co-led by Reed; Dr. Amy Wright, director of DBMR; and Dr. Shirley Pomponi, HBOI’s vice president and director of research.

“Because so much of the Gulf remains unexplored, I expect to find new organisms that we have never encountered before on any of our other trips,” said Dr. Pomponi.

Throughout the expedition, scheduled to conclude on Sept. 19, the explorers will post daily mission logs as well as images from the deep to bring the science and excitement of the mission in near real-time to students, scientists and others. To follow the chronicle of the expedition at, click on "Explorations,” and then “Bioprospecting.” The site also offers teachers of grades 5-12 lesson plans with hands-on, inquiry-based activities jointly developed by NOAA, educators and scientists.

The bioprospecting mission is also a cooperative effort between exploration and industry in that scientists will use an ROV owned and operated by Sonsub based in Houston. The ROV Innovator is often operated in support of the offshore oil industry and can dive to nearly 10,000 feet. ROV Innovator has been specially configured for a series of scientific expeditions from the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown, to maximize the ROV’s capability to collect scientific data and marine specimens, and to obtain high-quality still and video images.

The mission of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration is to map the physical, biological, chemical and archaeological aspects of the ocean; to understand ocean dynamics at new levels; to develop new sensors and systems in marine technology and to reach out and communicate to the public the value of unlocking the secrets of the ocean.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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