17 February 2005

Sea Squirts May Wield Power Over Human Disease

A small and humble sea creature akin to a tube of slime might play a key role in saving the lives of many as a new treatment for cancers that have become resistant to current drugs. These tiny creatures use strong chemicals to defend themelves against fungi and bacteria that may cause disease in the sea squirt.

The Subphylum Tunicata (Urochordata) contains about 1,600 species of marine animals called tunicates, or sea squirts. The name tunicate comes from the cellulose-containing tunic that surrounds the animal. The creatures have either spherical or cylindrical bodies that are attached to the underwater rock and strata at the base or stalk.

On the outside are two projections, a siphon that brings water into a pharyngeal chamber and a siphon through which the water is then expelled. It feeds using a mucous net that traps plankton which are then transported to the stomach for digestion. The tunicate larva (sometimes called "tadpole larva") has a well-developed notochord, propulsive tail, dorsal-tubular nerve cord plus a brain, balancing organ and an eye, complete with lens!

Scientific researchers from Scotland's Aberdeen University are working to identify the methods used by the slug-like creatures to defend themselves from infection. Professor Marcel Jaspers from the university?s chemistry department was given a grant of �157,000 to find a way to capitalize on the sea squirt's unique infection fighting "mechanisms.


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