Almost 60,000 years ago a forest of cypress trees grew on the banks of a river near the Gulf of Mexico. The trees fell and grew old over time, which were later buried under sediment. When the sea levels rose, the forest was covered once again. This forest has remained untouched according to the national oceanic and atmospheric administration. But in 2004, a hurricane hit the gulf coast sweeping up the sediment that kept the forest buried.
Since then the bay has been visited by a lot of scientists but it wasn't until recently a team of scientists set out to study the area. In December 2019 these scientists found the underwater forest which they believe may hold the secrets to creating new medicines
According to a professor of marine and environmental sciences, during the visit, the conditions were less than ideal, and previous dive teams saw a lot of sharks in the area, making the expedition very risky. This did not stop them as they went down and collected wood from this forest. Scientists found the wood to be extremely well preserved because it had been buried under layers of sediment that prevented oxygen from decomposing it and despite the fact the piece of wood was 60,000 years old it looked like something you could've picked up today. When the scientist took the wood back to the lab they were able to see what organisms had taken advantage of this ancient wood. There were 300 animals that were removed from the wood, but the scientist focused on: shipworms and a type of clam that converts wood into animal tissue.
Shipworms have been critical for drug discovering. Scientists firstly focused on shipworms as they are
clam-like creatures who use bacteria to convert wood into a suitable food source. The bacteria living in their gills, send enzymes to the gut to help shipworms break down wood. This process left the gut sterile, which suggests antibiotics might be at play. Later researchers have also shown that one form of shipworm gut bacteria was found to contain a strong antibiotic. This has caused great excitement in the medical community.
Each species of shipworms found had a different set of bacteria and the ones found in the underwater forest is one of an unknown bacteria. The sample was screened for neurological activities as the medical field is seeking new ways which might help treat conditions like pain and cancer. The shipworms produced 100 strains of bacteria and 12 underwent DNA sequencing to evaluate their potential to make a new drug treatment. This research is very important as antibiotic resistance has recently become a big threat to human life, said a member of the OHSU institute of environmental health.
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