Sön 4 dec / År 40 / Nr 5 2022

Marine chemical ecologists take the next step in discovering new bioactive compounds

The Department of Marine Ecology has been distinguished as one of the five most prominent departments at the University of Gothenburg in last year’s international evaluation, RED10. One particular research area, marine chemical ecology, was rated as one of four outstanding areas within the entire University. By conducting fundamental research, the group (marine chemical ecology) uncovers knowledge vital to future developments in the field as well as future pharmaceutical advancements.

Chemical ecology has a long history in land-based research. Marine chemical ecology is in comparison a relatively new orientation, partly due to the difficulty of obtaining certain organisms for testing.
Professor Henrik Pavia, also coordinator of the MARICE interdisciplinary research platform hosted by the Department of Marine Ecology, explains the ambition behind the research related to marine chemical ecology:
“One of the main reasons for why we want to investigate aquatic organisms within the frame of chemical ecology is to uncover new knowledge of biological substances that may be used in the development of new biochemical agents and applications. Another aim is to create understanding by conducting fundamental research vital to future developments in our field, where we by experience know that this type of research usually uncovers its possible areas of application later on”. JAG SKULLE VILJA ÄNDRA ORDNINGSFÖLJDEN PÅ OVANSTÅENDE MENINGAR, DET ÄR I FÖRSTA HAND GRUDNFORSKNING.

Bringing research to a possibly commercial level
The MARICE platform involves researchers in biology, chemistry and biohydrodynamics, creating common ground for investigating the production of and response to bioactive compounds used in chemical defence and signaling in marine organisms. A large part of the pharmaceuticals available today are based on bioactive compounds.
“We are taking the next step in discovering new bioactive substances in aquatic environments. In an on-going project, we are currently investigating toxic algae and particularly the levels of toxicity depending on different types of stimulation from the environment. We discovered that the presence of a certain type of crustacean predators (copepods) stimulates the algae to produce more toxins. The toxins are of interest for future pharmaceutical developments, and we have been granted funding to bring the research to a possibly commercial level”, Henrik Pavia continues.

The importance of fundamental research
Henrik also stresses that all fundamental research is of use, sooner or later an area of application will present itself.
“When we first started to investigate these algae, we were not sure of future applications. Now we know that there is a potential of developing the production of medical drugs that may change the way certain conditions are treated, enhancing the treatments perhaps. This would not be possible without the initial curiousity that sparked our interest in the algae in the first place”.

One of the top five departments
During 2010 the University of Gothenburg made an international evaluation of all research at the University and its conditions and requirements, referred to as the RED10 evaluation. The research area Marine Chemical Ecology at the Department of Marine Ecology was rated as one of four outstanding areas within the University. The Department of Marine Ecology as such was rated as excellent to outstanding and is therefore one of the top five departments at the University.
Aside from marine chemical ecology, the department has internationally strong research in for example marine evolutionary and theoretical biology, population and ecosystem ecology, and internationally recognised research in pelagic ecology and conservation biology. Experimental and analytical approaches are combined, ensuring a dynamic and stimulating environment for both research and education.