Living organisms have long been a source of compounds with medicinal properties. In recent years, specific groups of organisms, particularly the fungi, have been central to the discovery of novel compounds with medical applications. Indeed, many of our modern antibiotics are derived from fungi. The discovery of new fungal-based chemicals with potential applications has been an ongoing effort in medical research and scientists are now exploring novel habitats in the hope of finding new compounds. Surprisingly, the Great Lakes, and particularly the deepest regions of the Great Lakes, remain relatively unexplored but starting this summer, that will change. A research team including Dr. Mark Luttenton (AWRI), Dr. Robert Cichewicz (Univ. of Oklahoma), Dr. Susan Mooberry (Univ. of Texas Health Science Center), and Dr. Andrew Miller (Illinois Natural History Survey, Univ. of Illinois) recently received over $2.5 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a concentrated survey of the Great Lakes for fungal-based bioactive chemicals. The goal of the research is to evaluate the potential use of natural fungal compounds in the treatment of pediatric cancers.
The research team has been very pleased with their preliminary results. The number of fungal isolates from sediment samples collected from Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior has more than tripled the number of species reported for the Great Lakes and has yielded several fungal species and genera that have not been previously identified. More importantly, several isolates have demonstrated activity in standard laboratory assays. The entire project is expected to take four years to complete.