Finding possible medicines from hot springs

by Admin-Phmp

Filipinos pray more often than not. When there’s a typhoon coming, when their homes are under water due to flooding, or when the ground shakes so strongly, they call help from the Almighty.

It’s understandable. After all, the Philippines is part of what scientists call as “the Ring of Fire.” Actually, it’s the area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

According to scientists, the Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.  The Philippines, for instance, has around 200 volcanoes scattered all over the archipelago. Fortunately, only 25 are considered active.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology says the active volcanoes in Mindanao are: Ragang and Matutum, both in Cotabato; Hibok-Hibok in Mambajao, Camiguin; Calayo in Valencia, Bukidnon; Bud Dajo on Jolo Island; Musuan in Bukidnon; and Makaturing in Lanao.

Most of the volcanoes in the country are also endowed with many natural springs. And it is for this reason that a research team from the University of the Philippines-Cebu and Adamson is exploring hot springs and volcanic microorganisms for biotech and pharma applications.

They researchers believe microbial and natural product exploration of volcanoes and hot springs, which are underexplored habitats, will undoubtedly yield a huge repertoire of novel and biologically active compounds.

Microbial natural products (NPs) have been prominent sources of drugs for a long history, especially for cancer and infectious diseases and hot springs and volcanic environments represent valuable sources of novel NPs, yet largely untapped and understudied.

Dr. Fleurdeliz Maglangit headed the study, entitled “Bioactive Compounds from Hot Spring and Volcanic Microorganisms.” The researchers surveyed the bioactive NPs from hot springs and volcanic microbes from 2006–2022, highlighting their chemical structures and biological potential.

“Microbial pathogens or microorganisms that are capable of producing diseases, quickly evolve new ways to combat drug therapy, more rapidly than the introduction of new drugs and drug candidates to the clinical pipeline, that’s why new sources of biologically active compounds effective against drug resistant cells are urgently needed,” said Dr. Maglangit.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization said resistant bacterial infections are now associated with nearly 4.95 million deaths per year. It also said that there’s now high levels of resistance in bacteria, causing life-threatening bloodstream infections, as well as increasing resistance to treatment in several bacteria causing common infections.

“Hot springs and volcanic environments have been shown to harbor high microbial biodiversity with unique metabolic profiles, yet they remained untapped and understudied for their production of novel druggable chemical entities,” Dr. Maglangit said.

The NPs isolated from hot springs and volcanic microbes represent structural diversity and novelty in comparison to the NPs isolated from terrestrial or marine habitats. The hot spring water temperatures provide favorable conditions for thermophilic microbes to generate a wide array of bioactive metabolites.

Hot springs are heated by geothermal heat – heat from the Earth’s interior. In volcanic areas, water may come into contact with very hot rock heated by magma. Hot springs in active volcanic zones may produce superheated water.

Also called thermal springs, “they are inhabited by heat-loving microorganisms or thermophiles that can thrive at high temperatures,” according to a press release from the Department of Science and Technology, which funded the research through the National Research Council of the Philippines.

“The diversity of these organisms has been mainly attributed to temperature. Other factors include pH, dissolved hydrogen sulfide levels, biogeography, and geological history,” the press release further said.

Thermophiles have attracted significant interest in recent years for their production of heat-stable enzymes for biotechnological applications including industrial, agriculture, and medical processes.

Maglangit’s team recommended the conduct of more extensive experiments, whether in animal models or human subjects since some of the compounds that have been identified from hot springs and volcanic microbes have only been tested in vitro.

Hot springs have been shown to host a wide variety of heat-tolerating or thermophilic microorganisms, and among these are the hot springs in Mt. Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna, as well as the Wonder Lake hot springs, also in Laguna, and the two hot springs in Benguet – Badekbek and Dalupirip.

Incidentally, the same research team is currently involved in a research project with Mainit Hot Springs located in Brgy. Montañeza, Malabuyoc, Cebu as the area of interest. Project ISAAC (Isolation, Screening, and Antimicrobial Activity of Compounds from Actinobacteria) aims to isolate, screen, and characterize thermophilic Actinobacteria for the production of bioactive compounds with the potential for drug development.

Right now, several thermophilic strains were isolated from Mainit Hot Springs with remarkable bioactivities against Gram-positive pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis compared with gentamicin or oxytetracycline antibiotic control. Isolation and characterization of the bioactive compounds are currently underway in their laboratories.

“The microbial species and chemical diversity in hot springs and volcanic habitats are indeed indicative of future exploration,” the press release said. “These novel microorganisms will also likely produce novel druggable molecules.”

Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

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