Novel compound that protects from infection found in sharks

February 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- From the tissues of sharks, a team of scientists has extracted a novel compound that is a powerful killer of a variety of bacteria, fungi and parasites, according to a report being published today in a scientific journal.

While it is too early to know just how the compound could be used, the scientists speculate that it could be a strong weapon in the arsenal of antibiotics, not just because it is new but also because it might be effective against infectious diseases as the microbes that cause them become more resistant to existing drugs.

"The finding will likely spur searches for naturally occurring antibiotics in other vertebrates, including mammals," the National Academy of Sciences said in commenting on the article.

Infections are a threat to all creatures, and scientists have long been intrigued by the ways living things defend themselves against invasion from the thousands of different microbes in the environment.

In recent years, the pace of investigation has quickened. The focus has been on discovering any substance that animals, insects and plants possess to ward off dangerous microbes.

The new compound does not belong to any known class of chemicals or antibiotics, the scientists said, and its name, squalamine, is derived in part from Squalus acanthias, the Latin name of the dogfish shark in which it was first found.

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