UPEI researchers in the news, part 14

The “Mud Scud” Edition: probing Canada’s Arctic for valuable bioactive compounds.

UPEI’s Dr. Russell Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Marine Natural Products, is used to going deep in the search for possibly valuable bioactive compounds. He leads a team of researchers several times a year on dive trips to find and collect new specimens to study in his lab. Usually, these trips are to warm and sunny destinations, such as Florida or the Bahamas.

This summer, Kerr is exploring new territory as far bio-prospecting is concerned. His team will be collecting mud from the bottom of Frobisher Bay on Nunavut’s Baffin Island.

Monday, July 12, CBC North in Nunavut featured Dr. Kerr in an interview about his planned trip.

"Going up to the Arctic really represents the next really exciting steps for us," said Kerr, who heads up the University of Prince Edward Island's Marine Natural Products Lab. "Nobody has looked at, certainly, Canada's North in terms of the natural product potential of microbes.

"We view this as the first of a great many trips over the next many, many years to really try to get, initially, an understanding of what microbes are there. And concurrent with that, what sorts of natural products might these microbes be able to produce that could be of value in human health, animal health, cosmetic industry, and so on and so forth."

Read the rest of the article here.

When Kerr finally arrived in Nunavut a few weeks later, the CBC reported again on his negotiations with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated the group charged with implementing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. NTI called the negotiations “precedent-setting” for future agreements about sharing the profits of bio-prospecting in the North.

"I'm leaving with a very good feeling about being able to come back here, work with local groups, discover what's here and, should anything commercial be realized from this work, then share things with local people appropriately," Kerr said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Two days later, the Globe and Mail picked up on the story, in an article called “Will Canada be frozen out in great Arctic sweepstakes?” The article focuses on the issue of bio-prospecting in Canada’s North, and whether Canadian companies and researchers will be able to catch up to other countries in their exploration for new valuable compounds.

Kerr, a veteran of dives in much warmer and much more crowded waters, realized a few years ago Canada’s Arctic was virtually untouched by bio-prospectors.

“Later this summer, Dr. Kerr will return to the North to cruise into Frobisher Bay with a missile-like instrument he and his grad students call the Mud Scud. The scud scoops clumps of microbe-teeming sediment from ocean bottoms. Through a complex screening process, Dr. Kerr hopes to find unique actinomycetes, the microbes that give us 70 per cent of the world’s ever-shrinking library of usable antibiotics. ‘People all over the world are looking madly for these,’ said Dr. Kerr.”

Read the whole article here.

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