WQCS Header Background Image
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Treasure Coast Marine Scientists on Leading Edge of Addressing the Post-Antibiotic Era


As we go about our lives on the Treasure Coast, teams of leading-edge marine scientists are quietly working in our own backyard at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce!

They’re not trying to keep it a secret, either. Through their ongoing Ocean Science Lecture Series (ongoing like as in 21 years!), the actual scientists themselves speak to us from the stage at Harbor Branch in great detail about their work, and we, in turn, can ask questions.

JS: This is a great, great series. It really informs the public what we do here, and we do a lot of critical science.

And it's FREE. That’s Dr. Jim Sullivan, the executive director at Harbor Branch.

We dropped in on the lecture last week. The topic? “Discovering New Chemicals from the Sea: Can We Address the Antibiotic-Resistance Crisis?”

Whoa! First of all, did you know there’s an Antibiotic-Resistance Crisis?!?

We learn from Dr. Peter McCarthy, that it’s the nature of bacteria to adapt and become resistant to an antibiotic which, in the past, would have wiped it out immediately. Here’s Dr. McCarthy from the Ocean Science Lecture stage:


PM: The CDC is very aware of this…

The CDC is the Center for Disease Control. He says they…

PM: …gave us a report. They stated the post-antibiotic era is here. We’re heading back to the state where we were in 1900.

That was a time when infectious diseases caused death.

PM: We’re back there again. We can’t treat bacterial infections. In the US, one person dies every 15 minutes because we’ve got resistance. So, sobering facts.

He says even non-life-threatening diseases we thought we beat – like, taking penicillin for Gonorrhea? The bacteria is now resistant to Penicillin.

PM: So, we are getting to a stage with where you can’t treat it anymore. It’s not going to kill, but it can’t be treated.

On a more serious level, MRSA is a classic example of a dangerous antibiotic-resistant disease.

Now, it’s important to know that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not viruses, and are powerless against the Coronavirus and the Flu.

So – what to do about the antibiotic-resistant crisis we face?

PM: Nature knows how to kill microbes and so we can use that technology in developing antibiotic agents. If we look at all the antibiotics which are used these days, 75% of them have their origins in nature.

McCarthy and his team search the sea for new forms of antibiotics.

They already have around 60 patents they hope will become products that end up in the doctor’s office.

So, why the sea? And, why sponges as a source for antibiotics?

PM: That’s why looking at things like sponges which people haven’t studied a lot, we see these new things because its totally different for the terrestrial environment. So, sponge may develop totally new tool kits to kill other things than they did on dry land. Many of these sponges are filter feeders. So they are pumping large amounts of water through their bodies.

The sea water they pump is loaded with bacteria.

PM: So, sponges we can predict would be making antibiotic compounds to protect themselves.

We see video of their underwater work.

(video voiceover) Diaz injects a harmless colored dye in the water near the body of a sponge…..

DH: Hi – I’m Dennis Hanisak. I am a research professor here…

And he coordinates the Series which is made possible by John & Barbara Ferrera.

DH: Every week we have a big story here! Next week, the topic is “Will Razing Rays Save Our Bays?

Learn more here: http://www.fau.edu/hboi/community/osls.php

(video voiceover) When I start seeing the colored dye coming out of the sponge in less than 2 seconds from when it was applied – I could not believe my eyes!