Scientists in the United States of America (USA) are studying seaweed in a bid to find new types of anti-malaria drugs. Their research is based on the fact that seaweed emits a natural chemical response to ward off fungi that would otherwise colonise an injured plant, a process that could help the search for anti-malaria drugs. Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum and it kills almost a million people per year the world over. There is an urgent need to find new drugs to fight malaria because the parasite is rapidly developing resistance to popular pharmaceuticals. “There are only a couple of drugs left that are effective against malaria in all areas of the world, so we are hopeful that these molecules will continue to show promise as we develop them further as pharmaceutical leads,” said scientist Julia Kubanek, an associate professor at Georgia Tech. After studying 800 species of seaweed off the Fiji Island, the researchers stumbled upon the class of seaweed defence compounds, known as bromophycolides. According to Kubanek, one particular type of compound caught the scientists’ attention, Callophycus serratus, “because it seemed particularly adept at fighting off microbial infections.” The molecules appeared in light-coloured blotches on certain parts of the seaweed, and were visible with the help of a new technique known as desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry developed at the Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “The alga is marshalling its defences and displaying them in a way that blocks the entry points for microbes that might invade and cause disease,” said Kubanek. “Seaweeds don’t have immune responses like humans do. But instead, they have some chemical compounds in their tissues to protect them. We can co-opt these chemical processes for human benefit in the form of new treatments for diseases that affect us,” she further added. However, more research is required before the process can be turned into a drug suitable for humans.