The ocean’s depths remain one of the least explored and most challenging environments on Earth. While the risks of exploring the ocean depths are high, the rewards can be significant, including scientific discoveries that could transform medicine and our understanding of the origins of life on Earth.
Human Health Breakthroughs from the Ocean
The ocean is home to a vast array of marine life, including many species that have evolved unique chemical compounds that could be used to develop new medicines. For example, the first marine-derived drug, Cytarabine, was approved in 1969 for the treatment of leukemia, and the medication was isolated from a marine sponge. Work on bioactive compounds in the venom of cone snails led to the development of a potent pain reliever called ziconotide. Additionally, a green fluorescent protein observed in jellyfish allows researchers to watch once-invisible processes, including the spread of cancer cells and the development of nerve cells.
PCR and Other Scientific Discoveries from the Ocean
Scientists have also made significant scientific discoveries by studying marine life. For instance, researchers developed PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, a technique widely used to copy strands of DNA, with the help of an enzyme isolated from a microbe found in marine hydrothermal vents. This technique has revolutionized the study of genetics. The ocean also contains many more of the deep branches of life that have evolved over 4 billion years on Earth, and studying marine life can tell us a lot about the evolution of both whole organisms and specific biological systems such as developmental genes and immune systems.
Challenges of Exploring the Ocean
Despite the potential rewards of exploring the ocean, the challenges are significant. The cost of equipping boats with sonar technology to map the ocean floor is a significant barrier to exploration, and the extreme conditions of the deep ocean make it difficult for humans to explore. However, advances in technology, such as deep-sea robots and high-resolution underwater imaging, may make human exploration of the ocean depths unnecessary.
Exploring the ocean’s depths presents significant challenges, but the potential rewards, including scientific discoveries that could transform medicine, make it a worthwhile endeavor. As technology continues to advance, we may be able to unlock the secrets of the ocean’s depths without putting human explorers at risk.