The Molecular Leviathan from the Deep
Graduate School of Science / Faculty of Science
Abnormal plankton blooms at sea can result in a phenomenon known as a red tide, and the extreme toxicity of some of these planktons can cause the loss marine life on a huge scale. Additionally, some fish and shellfish become toxic by consuming this plankton, resulting in severe food poisoning when eaten in turn. One such red tide off New Zealand in 1998 also caused respiratory problems for hundreds of people in the vicinity.
Professor Kazuo Tachibana, Associate Professor Masayuki Satake and their research group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Science focus their research on this red tide toxin. The body of this toxin belongs to a class of molecules called polyethers, which have a strange structure or backbone reminiscent of a dragon or deep-sea leviathan. While these molecules are thought to bind the ion channels in nerve cells and prevent their normal operation, the full picture of how they act is not yet clear.
The research group, with the collaboration of a team in New Zealand, was able to separate out a new polyether, brevisulcenal F, and determine its full structure through instrumental analysis. The compound has a unique structure composed of a chain of 24 ether rings, a huge number compared to other known natural products. Products of a similar size could be counted on the fingers of one hand, says Satake. It is also very interesting from a physiological perspective, as its toxicity can reach 300 times that of sodium cyanide.
This research result may also open the way to the development of treatments for poisoning and also to a deeper understanding of the functioning of ion channels.
Press release (Japanese)
Yuka Hamamoto, Kazuo Tachibana, Patrick T. Holland, Feng Shi, Veronica Beuzenberg, Yoshiyuki Itoh, and Masayuki Satake,
“Brevisulcenal-F: A Polycyclic Ether Toxin Associated with Massive Fish-kills in New Zealand”,
Journal of the American Chemical Society doi: 10.1021/ja212116q