From: Associated Press
Published June 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Coral Reef Ecosystem May Fight Illnesses

MIAMI — Biomedical researchers who dove down nearly 3,000 feet to search a newly-discovered coral reef found treasures they say may help doctors fight cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses.


Scientists with the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution descended to water sunless, black water in the Florida Straits, a passage located between the Keys and Cuba.


There, they found a new coral reef ecosystem that features man-size coral thickets and limestone towers.


"Gorgeous. Oh, beautiful goblets, just gorgeous," said Shirley Pomponi, president of Harbor Branch. "It's a richer area than we thought, for sure."


Most importantly, they also found sponges and coral, including a new species of bamboo coral. Scientists have previously used chemicals from the underwater finds to fight diseases.


Researchers discovered hints of the reef's existence in the 1970's, but didn't witness the real majesty of this unknown ecosystem until December. Using solar technology developed at the University of Miami, they located sites that sustain themselves without sunlight or obvious energy, according to Mark Grasmueck, a UM assistant professor.


Armed with a robotic torpedo, advanced sonars, sensors and cameras, explorers descended in a state-of-the art, submersible bubble the size of two vehicles.


Now, researchers will take what they brought up from those depths to laboratories and search for new medicinal compounds that might exist.


John Reed, Harbor Branch's chief scientist said the goal is to find "something that kills cancer cells and doesn't kill anything else."


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Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com


Source: Associated Press


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