Scientists discover an ancient underwater forest that may help produce new medicines

Scientists discovered a 60,000-year-old rainforest right under the Gulf of Mexico and 60 feet off the coast of Alabama. The ancient forest traces back from the Ice Age, when sea levels were around 400 feet lower than before. Even though most cypress forests decompose within the first 10,000 years but the sediments contained inside the wood prevented bacteria from decomposing it.

“It really looked like something that you could have picked up from today. It still had bark on it. It still had all the coloration on the inside. It was just locked away for 60,000 years,” said Brian Helmuth, a marine and environmental sciences professor at Northeastern University, one of the researchers at the site.

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More than 300 organisms were found in the forest but, scientists were especially interested in a new kind of shipworm that had inhabited the forest. The shipworm had around 100 strains of bacteria, and numerous were unknown. Twelve of them are still being evaluated for potential medicinal value. Scientists will also asses if the wood could be used for textiles, renewable fuels, or other chemicals.

“We screened for antimicrobials and for neurological activity, which is in the direction of pain drugs as well as anti-cancer drugs. We have not been working on antivirals in the past, but right now my department at University of Utah is spinning up to start including viral assays in the program.” said Margo Haywood, a medicinal chemistry professor at the University of Utah.

Similarly, in Antarctica, evidence of a prehistoric rainforest had been discovered dating back to 90 million years ago. This rainforest had been around during the Cretaceous period, and the ice sheet covering Antarctica didn’t exist at the time. The carbon dioxide levels were higher during the Cretaceous period, which is why the rainforest could survive for four months without sunlight.

Source: CNN

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