Australia corals to light up cancer cure fight

Aug 14, 2010

Australian scientists have discovered a cluster of brilliant shallow-water corals that could help in the search for anti-cancer drugs and to understand global warming, a researcher said Saturday.

The vividly fluorescent cluster was found in waters off Lord Howe Island, 600 kilometres (400 miles) east of the Australian mainland, with some displaying rich reds that were difficult to find and in high demand for studies of cancer cells, researcher Anya Salih said.

"The underwater buttresses and caverns are densely inhabited by hundreds of corals, all deeply pigmented by the most intense green, blue and many with red fluorescence," she said.

Salih said she had never seen such an abundance of highly red fluorescent corals, nor such an extraordinarily vibrant site.

"We are using these pigments to light up the workings of living cells and to study what goes wrong in cancer cells," said Salih, from the University of Western Sydney.

The gene producing the particular pigment -- red, green, blue or yellow -- would be attached to a molecule in both healthy and , and would enable scientists to track cell growth and change using a special fluorescent-sensitive laser microscope.

Salih is working with scientists from the University of California to explore how differ from normal cells and how effective anti-cancer drugs are. She said red pigments were especially valuable because they allowed researchers to see deeper into tissues.

"These fluorescent molecules are transforming cell science and biomedical research," said Salih.

The corals were discovered by scientists tracking the recovery of coral bleaching linked to at Lord Howe Island, and Salih said they were invaluable not only for her research but for understanding climate change.

"Earlier this year, the of Lord Howe Island experienced a sudden mass bleaching event caused by warming of seawater. It's a sign that global warming is beginning to be a threat to coral survival even to the most southern reefs in Australia," she said.

But the fluorescent corals had been much less damaged by the bleaching, lending "support to the hypothesis that fluorescence can provide some level of protection to corals from temperature stresses due to ."

"Coral fluorescence is proving to be incredibly important in the biology of reefs and their ability to survive stressful conditions," she said.

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hilbert
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
Frankly, I'm fed up with these cancer-cure stories. I'm a baby-boomer whose first recollection of going to the movies at the age ~5 was a newsreel showing cancer research--I still recall asking my mother what the word 'cancer' meant and she told me it was a 'rare' disease not to scare me.

Ever since then hardly a week goes by without a pronouncement of another possible cancer breakthrough when in fact actual progress over this past 2/3rds of a century has, at best, been just meager. If every one of these stories were totted up end-to-end then cancer should have been banished to the next universe let alone the end of this one.

Clearly, most of these emotive statements amount to little more than researchers wishing to further their funding stream.

It's no wonder so many are turned off science. Science has a credibility issue, and it is these types of stories that are significant part of the problem. Science news editors you're also to blame for printing them.

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