Marine Natural Products: A Way to New Drugs

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Abstract


The investigation of marine natural products (low molecular weight bioregulators) is a rapidly developing scientific field at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Investigations aimed at detecting, identifying, and understanding the structure of marine natural products have led to the discovery of 20,000 new substances, including those characterized by an extremely high physiological activity. Some results and prospects of works aimed at creating new drugs on the basis of marine natural products are discussed herein.

Introd uction Low molecular natural products are largely referred to the so-called secondary metabolites. In contrast to primary metabolites, these substances are rare in occurrence and may be detected only in some taxa, and occasionally, in one biological species (subspecies, strain). They are formed on the basis of precursor substances participating in primary metabolism, such as acetic acid, amino acids, glucose and are observed mainly as final products of biochemical transformations. Secondary metabolites are quite diverse by chemical structure and include steroids, terpenoids, alkaloids, polyketides, phenolic metabolites, some carbohydrates, lipids, and peptides. Оn the other hand, secondary metabolites can be classified on the basis of their biological functions as hormones, antibiotics, toxins, pheromones, etc. Among the natural products there are endo-metabolites, i.e., substances exercising their biological functions in the organisms-producers, for instance, oxylipins, hormones, phytoalexins, and more numerous exometabolites released into the environment and being of ecological importance, including toxins, antibiotics, and different signal compounds. The higher terrestrial plants and soil microorganisms were, for a long time, considered to be the major biological sources of natural products. However, when skin-diver equipment was invented and became widely used, different marine organisms began also to be referred to their sources. The study of marine organisms significantly increased the amount of known natural products. In fact, the total number of studied natural products is unlikely to exceed 120-150 thousands, and by the estimates of many scientists, the amount is even lower [1], whereas about 20 thousand natural substances have been segregated. Moreover, the first researchers were surprised by the fact that marine organisms very rarely contained already known compounds. Hence, the biochemistry of their secondary metabolism differs substantially from that of terrestrial organisms.

V A Stonik

Pacific Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Far-eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Science

Email: Stonik@piboc.dvo.ru

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