Thousands of people have climbed Mount Everest, 12 men have walked on the surface of the moon but only 3 men have been to the very bottom of the ocean.
Despite the fact the ocean is so crucial to the very existence of every species that exists on our planet, according to the National Ocean Service, only a measly 5 % of the Earth’s oceans have been mapped by human beings, with the rest of the ocean remaining an elusive Pandora’s box of mind-boggling, beautiful mysteries.
5 % is a frighteningly little amount, the oceans account for 70 % of the Earth’s surface, meaning humans haven’t yet explored or discovered about 65 % of Earth’s surface area. A far greater percentage of the surfaces of the Moon and even Mars has been mapped and studied than that of our own ocean floor. This is an almost unbelievable statistic, especially when you take into account how many civilisations have been sailing the seas for centuries and how curious our ancestors were about what secrets lie beneath the waves.
Although human beings have drastically changed over the course of history, with our feelings, interests and morals constantly evolving, our civilisations constantly re-inventing themselves and our technology growing ever better by the day, one thing has always stayed the same… our fixation on the unknown, our burning desire to explore. This passion to discover leaves millions of humans all over the world fascinated by the ocean and what resides within it, and for good reason too, as the ocean may well be hiding resources, features and creatures that could change our world for the better.
94% of living creatures are aquatic, with two-thirds of marine life still not defined. So new species are still being discovered all the time, lurking within every part of the ocean. Even at the very bottom of the ocean floor, 11,000 metres below the surface, life has still found a way to strive with the likes of sea cucumbers and amphipods carrying out their daily lives existing at these depths. There are an estimated 1.4 -1.6 million marine species on earth, with some of these wonderfully strange creatures having the potential to change science and medicine in miraculous ways
Many scientists believe that the next lifesaving miracle cures are waiting to be discovered beneath the waves, in the form of undiscovered chemicals and species, which could serve as the inspiration for the next wave of medical revelations. This notion is supported by many experts such as David Newman, former chief of the natural products branch at the National Cancer Institute, who says “The marine environment is a vast and barely scratched reservoir of useful leads for potentially all diseases of mankind”, also stating that “Almost all of the agents initially used against HIV, and other viral diseases… owe their ‘chemical birth’ to work done with a Caribbean sponge”. This shows that the ocean can and will shine light on new scientific ideas, saving billions of lives in the process.
For example, scientists believe zebrafish may hold important clues in the search for treatments for Parkinson’s disease, as they have a much higher regenerative capacity for dopamine neurons than humans. According to Dr Thomas Becker, “Understanding the signals that underpin regeneration of these nerve cells could be important for identifying future treatments for Parkinson’s disease.”
Alongside this, Brian Murphy, a chemist at the University of Illinois Chicago, carries out his work focusing on drug discovery from natural products, which are small chemicals produced by organisms in nature. These natural products can serve as inspirational cues for scientists when developing certain medicines, such as antibacterial and anticancer drugs. “Organisms evolve to combat other organisms in their environment, and a lot of time they fight each other with natural products,” Murphy says. If other organisms can use these products to kill bacteria, using this logic, why can’t humans?
This hypothesis and many others like it have scientists searching below the waves into that colossal 95 % of uncharted ocean, trying to adapt and overcome the plethora of physical and technological limitations preventing us from exploring the depths because when they do, who knows what inspiration they will find?
Article by Young Reporter Jacob Perrin
First published in Grimsby Telegraph 22nd Feb 2022