Narrator: This is Science Today. A marine organism once considered a nuisance may be crucial in the development of future cancer drugs. Researcher Margo Haygood of the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography says the culprit behind this scientific irony is the bryozoan – a sea animal that looks like a plant, but is actually a colonial animal – meaning, it has many small individuals that all live together.
Haygood: Bryozoans commonly live on bottoms of boats. And in fact, most of the research funding that's been spent on studying this organism has been spent on trying to get rid of it – to make the Navy ships go faster. It grows on piers, it grows on rocks under water. It's a very well known organism.
Narrator: It wasn't until the 1960s that a group began to screen these invertebrates for anticancer activity and since then, there's been a great deal of research on the chemical compounds found in this animal called bryostatins, which hold tremendous promise in treating a variety of cancers.
Haygood: The benefit to society is to make this treasure chest of drugs available.
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.