Making progress on new compounds with Ole Miss

08-06-2015

In 2013 Bigelow Laboratory and the University of Mississippi formed a five-year Strategic Inter-Institutional Partnership Agreement for collaborative research and commercialization initiatives. The collaboration is making progress on identifying new compounds with anti-microbial activity and the potential to treat malaria.

The agreement capitalizes on the strengths of each institution. It outlines a plan for collaborative research and commercialization initiatives in the areas of blue (marine) biotechnology, including marine bioprospecting from Bigelow Laboratory's National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota's (NCMA), algal collection, pharmacognosy, medicinal chemistry, and other pharmaceutical sciences. It utilizes technologies that range from single cell genomics, to aquatic optical flow cytometry to bioinformatics, to analytical mass spectroscopy to identify new bioactive compounds.

During its initial phase, the NCMA is providing algal cultures for screening and NMR characterization, an effort that's being led by Melissa Jacob, senior scientist at the National Center for Natural Products Research at Ole Miss. To date, the NCMA has provided 200 strains from its more than 3,000 strains for screening for potential treatments for malaria and possibly some cancers.

"We are delighted to have had some success right out of the box. We've had some positive hits for novel compounds and will use Ole Miss' expertise in determining chemical structures," explains NCMA Director Mike Lomas. "The next step is to grow these potentially new compounds in large enough quantities that will allow further analysis and testing to be completed."

Erik Hom, a UM biology assistant professor, recently joined the collaborative effort.

"We really don't understand how the algae in these cultures are producing secondary metabolites," Hom said. "My lab's interest and role on the team is to better understand the interplay between environmental factors, gene regulation, cell physiology and microbe-algal interactions in driving the production of bioactive compounds so that we can ultimately coax the algae to make them on demand."

The University of Mississippi is involving its School of Pharmacy's National Center for Natural Products Research, the Department of BioMolecular Sciences and the Department of Biology in the initiative. In addition to the expertise of eight different researchers at Bigelow Laboratory, NCMA is offering up its 3,000 algal strains for experimentation and exploration, as well as its 60 years of experience in supporting research and industrial applications using algal products. If the first experiments prove to be the norm, it appears that the goal of the agreement to develop transformative new approaches to marine biomedical research is well on its way to being realized. Image caption: Dr. Erik Hom (left) from the University of Mississippi works with a student using cultures provided by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.