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Coral Found by NUIG Scientists on Ireland's Continental Shelf Effective Against Covid-19

12th July 2022
The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental Shelf
The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental Shelf

Marine Researchers at NUI Galway (NUIG) say an Atlantic coral that they discovered on Ireland’s Continental Shelf has a chemical compound which can act against the Covid-19 virus.

The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental Shelf.

The coral contains a previously unknown chemical compound, and research into its make-up is being conducted in partnership with North America’s South Florida University.

The compound was isolated, and named "tuaimenal" – a blend of "tuaim" from the old Irish word for sounds of the sea, and “enal”, a chemistry term for a compound with an alkene aldehyde functional group.

The research showed that Tuaimenal A can block the major enzyme of the Covid-19 virus, known as Main Protease, which is responsible for the manufacture of virus particles inside the infected cell, according to NUIG.

The cauliflower coral was found on the seabed about half a mile below the surface on the edge of Ireland’s Continental ShelfDr Carolina De Marco Verissimo of NUIG’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory conducted a study of the coral-derived Tuaimenal and how it interacts with the Covid-19 enzyme

NUIG professor of zoology Louise Allcock said that while the scientists did not set out to find this specific species, they were “hunting for corals, especially soft corals, because of their potential in bio-discovery”.

Prof Allcock, who is director of NUIG’s Ryan Institute Centre for Ocean Research and Exploration, deploys the ROV Holland I submarine from Marine Institute research ship Celtic Explorer to hunt for deep-sea corals and sponges which may have novel chemical compounds with pharmaceutical potential.

"Nature never ceases to amaze - to think that a coral, which spends its life on the sea bed and is never exposed to viruses and diseases which affect humanity so profoundly, has the potential to influence treatments and therapies,”Prof Allcock says.

“Drug development is a lengthy process, but the first step is finding the magic compounds with bio-reactivity in the laboratory,” she says.

Dr Carolina De Marco Verissimo of NUIG’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory conducted a study of the coral-derived Tuaimenal and how it interacts with the Covid-19 enzyme.

“Tuaimenal A represents what we term in science as a ‘lead compound’ – that is, a basic structure from which scientists can produce more potent and specific drugs that could be used for the treatment of Covid-19 and perhaps other viruses,” she has said.

Results of the recently published work can be found here

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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