September 29, 2008

Dove Marks Century of Marine Research

By Tony Henderson

THE Duke of Northumberland will today lead the centenary celebrations of a building tucked away in a picturesque bay on the North East coast.

But Newcastle University's Dove Marine Laboratory, originally set up in 1908 to study over-fishing, has never been more vital at a time when the potential of the seas to provide solutions to the major issues facing mankind is being increasingly recognised.

The Dove, at Cullercoats in North Tyneside, is an internationally- important research base as new technologies open up exploration of the deep seas, the world's final frontier.

The role of the seas in providing new chemicals and resources for human health, sustainable food supplies and in limiting the impacts of climate change are all areas of research.

One of the projects at the Dove could see industrial plants producing Omega 3 oils, which have widespread human health benefits, especially those for the heart.

At present these oils come from fish - an increasingly under- pressure source but Newcastle University has recently discovered unusual marine bacteria which produce Omega 3 oils.

Prof Grant Burgess, director at the Dove, said that industrial partners are currently backing research at Newcastle.

He said: "The university takes extremely seriously the need and potential for industrial processes in the North East which employ people based on university research."

The Dove is also working with the university's dental school on how seaweed can be used to reduce plaque growth on teeth.

The laboratory is studying the ability of seaweeds to produce their own antibiotics, which can be used to tackle the build-up of bacteria in the mouth, through toothpaste or mouth washes.

Having seawater on tap also allows the Dove to keep a range of marine creatures for research, such as sponges and sea slugs, as a potential source of new pharmaceuticals.

Prof Burgess said: "Sponges are little living factories producing anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds and we are working to understand the different types of chemicals produced by local sponges.

"People see the Amazon rainforests as a priceless resource but the marine environment is the most diverse on the planet.

"We are striving to use marine resources in a sustainable way. The only things we are taking from the seas are knowledge and ideas."

Dr Jane Delany, Dove deputy director, said: "There is a huge, untapped resource in the seas in areas like pharmaceuticals.

"Marine life uses a range of chemicals to defend itself and regulate its own diseases and there is the potential for developing these for our own health needs and problems like cancers."

Dr Delany is working on ways to tackle the huge environmental problem of bigger and faster ships discharging increasing amounts of ballast water around the world. This means the spread of alien and invasive species which can colonise new areas.

"They can proliferate at alarming rates and displace species native to that area," said Dr Delaney.

An example is the spread of the Russian zebra mussel to UK and other waters. It grows rapidly and clogs pipes and inlets in rivers and estuaries.

Tony Henderson

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