Seaweed could yield malaria drug

Feb. 21, 2011 at 9:22 PM
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ATLANTA, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Researchers battling malaria say they have found a new, if unlikely, ally -- a seaweed in Fiji that produces a compound shown to kill the malaria parasite.

The seaweed, a form of red algae, produces an anti-fungal compound that has been shown to be effective against the parasite, which has evolved resistance to many existing malaria drugs, AAAS ScienceMag reported Monday.

The most recent anti-malaria drug, artemisin, is already coming up against a resistant strain of the disease in Cambodia, scientists say.

In Fiji, chemical ecologist Julia Kubanek of the Georgia Institute of Technology collected seaweeds and other marine species to look for natural antibiotics, screening compounds isolated from those organisms not just for antibiotic potential but also for anti-cancer, anti-HIV and other biomedical properties.

Kubanek discovered that the red algae, Callophycus serratus, produced a family of unusual ring-shaped compounds called bromophycolides that in biological screening were found to have strong anti-malarial properties.

If the seaweed compound is found to be effective in animal and human studies, scientists say, it could be the next weapon against a disease that claims a million lives a year.

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