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Scouring Tauranga harbour for drug and agrichemical leads

7 March 2012

Waikato student scouring Tauranga harbour for drug and agrichemical leads

A University of Waikato student is creating an inventory and repository of marine organisms in Tauranga Harbour to see if there are potential cancer-or PSA-beating compounds in Bay of Plenty waters.

Summer Research Scholarship student Nikki Webb has been creating an inventory and a bio-resource repository of Tauranga harbour marine life, checking those organisms for potential drug and agrichemical leads.

Webb’s research is part of a bigger study by The University of Waikato’s Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill looking the biochemical machinery of marine organisms, to generate bio-medicinal and agrichemical leads.

New Zealand is internationally recognised as being one of the top source countries for bio-discovery leads with a drug licensed for breast cancer in late 2010 and three other compounds currently in late phase clinical trials.

Webb has been working with the university’s Environmental Research Institute to make the inventory.

“We’re going to have a look at some extractions of these organisms and see if they have any bioactive properties which could then hopefully evolve to be anti-cancer drugs or PSA or other agrichemicals.”

To date, Webb has collected algae species, sea weed, sea sponges, sea squirts and other samples of marine life samples from Leisure Island, Waikareao Estuary and Rabbit Island.

Once the inventory is complete it will be available for educational purposes in museums around New Zealand.

As well as creating an inventory, Webb has been looking into bio-discovery laws to see what can and cannot be taken for scientific research.

“I’ve found that there are no comprehensive bio-discovery laws for New Zealand to date, but the Ministry of Economic Development is working on one at the moment.

“The ministry is working with the Waitangi Tribunal and the Convention of Biological Diversity - an international cooperation which helps with bio-discovery laws around the world – and they’re hoping to make an appropriate law for bio-discovery in New Zealand.”


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