‘Oceans and Human Health’: La Jolla professor co-authors book on how people and the sea are ‘intertwined’
Looking to demonstrate how human health and ocean health are “intimately intertwined,” a book featuring the work of Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor William Gerwick was released on World Oceans Day, June 8.
“Oceans and Human Health: Opportunities and Impacts” presents the latest global research in looking to further understand how humans interact with the oceans.
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“The health of the ocean affects the health of humans and vice versa,” Gerwick told the La Jolla Light. “That makes this field of study a really meta discipline. To define that discipline, we broke [certain concepts] into chapters.
“The book … deals with all the benefits we get from the sea, such as food, medicine and biotechnology products, but also chronicles the negative things, such as pollution, global warming and algal blooms. It provides ammunition and information for the people that want to think about policies to protect ocean health and human health and what people can do as stewards of the ocean, which I think a lot of people in La Jolla feel.”
Gerwick co-authored some of the chapters and edited others.
Among the chapters he contributed to is a detailed look at the use of oceanic compounds in medicine for humans to treat things such as cancer and malaria, a field Gerwick has been researching for 40 years.
With his team of students, Gerwick has been conducting expeditions to identify organisms in the sea that may have compounds or molecules that can damage the cellular structure of diseases without harming healthy cells.
“There is an island off Venezuela and recently the students collected [from that area] strands of what looked like hair, and those ‘hairs’ are blue-green algae better known as cyanobacteria,” he said. “We brought those back to the lab and made an extract with organic solvents. We tested those [cells] for activity and the ability to kill cancer cells in a petri dish. We found that extract was super active at killing cancer cells.”
When molecules that have those properties are identified, they can be synthesized in the lab, he added.
“We want to know how and why it is made and how it kills cancer,” Gerwick said. “When we did that, we were able to re-create the molecule and test it more broadly. We found it was even more active at killing the malaria parasite. We then could change that ever so slightly to incorporate different aspects to [fight other diseases]. So we have been working on that for a year and making great progress.”
“The book … deals with all the benefits we get from the sea, such as food, medicine and biotechnology products, but also chronicles the negative things, such as pollution, global warming and algal blooms.”
— William Gerwick
The book chronicles the 23 drugs used in clinics today that have an origin in marine life, he said. “This idea has been intensifying in recent years and is a very exciting and active field around the world.”
He noted that more than 40 drugs with origins in the sea are currently in clinical trials.
In addition to the medicine chapter, the book has chapters on food that comes from the sea and the role of sustainable fishing practices, the complex state of ocean-related laws, the impact of plastic pollution and more.
On the heels of “Oceans and Human Health,” Gerwick recently finished his first children’s book, “Jamaican Mermaid Tale,” which is expected to be out later this year. It is a re-telling of a Jamaican myth about a mermaid.
Gerwick said proceeds from both books will be donated to various causes. ◆