ICBG Projects

ICBG Projects

AP1: Exploiting Microbial Diversity for Natural Product Discovery

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Associate Program 1 is led by Paul Jensen and William Fenical at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and explores microbial diversity and new methods to discover novel, small molecule drug candidates produced by marine microorganisms cultured from collections made in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. The discovery of bioactive compounds is facilitated by the application of modern molecular, genomic, and analytical techniques coupled with ecologically relevant cultivation methods designed to isolate poorly studied microbial taxa and stimulate secondary metabolite production. Biotic surveys are used to explore the relationships between taxonomic diversity and secondary metabolite production and help inform future discovery efforts while the continued development of bioinformatic tools and the analysis of genome sequence data will provide insight into biosynthetic diversity and rapid methods by which it can be interpreted.

AP2:  Ecological Leads for Drug Discovery from Marine Organisms

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Associate Program 2 is led by Julia Julia Kubanek at Georgia Institute of Technology and investigates the chemical ecology of seaweeds, marine invertebrates, and associated microorganisms and uses ecological insights to guide the discovery of novel, biologically active natural products for drug development. Insights from chemical ecology facilitate the discovery of novel bioactive compounds from coral reef organisms. AP2 studies overlooked species, including coralline algae and slow-growing seaweeds in dark, cryptic habitats where difficult-to-replace tissues are often chemically defended. We will cultivate and analyze surface-associated bacteria which may be specialized as pathogens, mutualists, or commensals, based on the hypothesis that they produce unique secondary metabolites due to their complex ecological interactions on surfaces. Ecological assays (anti-microbial, allelopathic, anti-consumer) along with pharmaceutically relevant screens are used guide the isolation of novel, bioactive natural products from extracts of marine organisms.

AP3: The Chemical Ecology of Biodiversity Conservation

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Associate Program 3 is led by Mark Hay at Georgia Institute of Technology and Danielle Dixson at the University of Delaware. AP3 studies the chemical ecology of coral reef organisms and help inform drug discovery efforts as well as provide new and more effective management options for conserving and restoring the diversity and ecological function of coral reefs. AP3 explores the chemical mediation of biotic interactions and the functional role of biodiversity in community structure to inform drug discovery and to innovate management options for saving coral reefs as well as the biotic resources and ecosystem services they represent. Using lab and field experiments in marine protected areas and adjacent degraded reefs, we will determine which coral reefs species suppress or facilitate recruitment of coral and fish larvae, test whether suppressive seaweeds can be removed and stimulatory coral added to enhance fish and coral recruitment to degraded reefs, and determine how coastal land use alters recruitment to adjacent marine systems. At smaller spatial scales we will explore how seaweeds chemically suppress corals, whether directly acting on coral animals or their zooxanthellae, or indirectly by disrupting the coral’s microbiome.

AP4: South Pacific Center for Drug Discovery and Conservation

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Associate Program 4 is the Center for Drug Discovery and Conservation (CDDC) in Fiji and is led by Bill Aalbersberg and Katy Soapi at the University of the South Pacific (USP). The CDDC was conceptualized and developed through this ICBG program in 2006 and currently provides advanced graduate student training in marine ecology and conservation, microbiology, natural products chemistry and drug discovery. The CDDC promotes drug discovery and reef conservation through education, scientifically based resource management, and biodiversity conservation efforts throughout the 12 island nations under the auspices of USP. The CDDC acts as the liaison between the APs, local villagers, and government officials and facilitates collecting permits and conservation and management education and implementation. The CDDC generates the primary test materials that drive the drug discovery process, participates in the microbiology, ecology, and natural product chemistry aspects of the program, and benefits from technology transfer and training provided by the APs. A major goal of this ICBG program is to establish the CDDC as a vibrant and self-sustaining entity that will transcend ICBG funding and continue to provide educational resources and conservation benefit to the people of the South Pacific.

 

Central Operations Core:

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The Central Operations Core (COC) is at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Aquatic Chemical Ecology Center (ACE) and is managed by Jinu Mathew Valayil. The COC acts as the central repository for materials and data associated with the biological samples and pharmacological testing for the ICBG. The COC manages the existing library of 8000+ extracts and continues to acquire new extracts via collections, while distributing these to collaborators for screening in assays relevant to the U.S., low and middle-income countries, and the island nations of the South Pacific. The COC also coordinates legal agreements, contracts and permits required for domestic and international research activities and oversees the safe transfer of extracts, fractions or bulk samples from the South Pacific to the COC in Atlanta, as well as organizes collecting trips to Fiji and the Solomon Islands in collaboration with our collaborators/partners at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.