Monday, February 23, 2009

Corals : When is it appropriate to harvest them?

Recent news releases have announced the discovery of new chemicals in corals that function as antibiotics for microorganisms. As our bodies become increasingly more resistant to traditional antibiotics, the antibiotics derived from corals may begin to take the place of our usual pharmaceuticals. Experts are also saying that in addition to potentially providing new antibiotics, corals may also help scientists to develop ways to make older drugs more effective. This is important news because over the years, doctors have been warning patients of the potential long-term dangers of relying too heavily on antibiotics to fix ailments and illnesses that don't require the drugs. (Anyone seen the "Not All Bugs Need Drugs" TV commercials running lately?)

While this is very exciting news for science and human health, I am a little hesitant to sing these findings from the mountaintops just yet. I have some reservations about harvesting drugs from corals, and perhaps this is simply because I don't have enough scientific information about the subject. How are these chemicals harvested from coral? Does the harvesting of corals for drugs damage the marine ecosystem? Is there current regulation of who should and should not have access to the harvesting of corals? How can we ensure that pharmaceutical companies also have a stake in a healthy ocean environment?

Perhaps this is, in fact, a win-win situation for all. Many coral conservation organizations, such as, Too Precious to Wear, highlight the antibiotic-producing capability of coral as an important reason why we should preserve coral in its natural environment and not incorporate natural coral as a part of our wardrobe or in our home decorations. A quick search of the internet did not show this issue to be too highly contentious or polarized: most of the articles that I came across were positive and hopeful.

How to you feel about using corals to develop pharmaceuticals? Is this is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you have any news or journal articles on this topic that you would be able to share?

Comments are welcome!

1 comment:

  1. Who gets to access and benefit from these marine genetic resources is my concern, and was the subject of the June 2007 U.N. Oceans and the Law of the Sea sessions. The discussions reached a stalemate, so at this time "bioprospecting" remains an unregulated activity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This lack of regulations has not stopped the U.S. from issuing over 30 patents for marine genetic resources to a variety of corporations. Personally I'd like to think of these resources as common property for the benefit of all, and not have the DNA strands of certain corals end up as the "intellectual property" of Pfeizer and the like.