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04. BIOCHEMICALS & HUMAN HEALTH

4(b) Techniques of Biodiscovery Research

‘Biodiscovery’: the quest for bioactive chemicals; and using genetic diversity for biotechnology.

  1. How it Works
  2. Specimen Library
  3. Extract Library
  4. High Throughput Screening

1. How it Works
Collections are frozen and freeze-dried. Chemicals are extracted and then analysed for bioactivity against various chemical and biological screens by scientists at the Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.

Collecting samples from the Great Barrier Reef.
Collecting samples from the Great Barrier Reef.
Image: Dr. John Hooper, QM.
Sponge sample collected for possible bio-chemicals.
Sponge sample collected for possible biochemicals. Image: Roger Steene.
Extracts in vials ready for testing.
Extracts in vials ready for testing.
Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.
Robotic-assisted testing
Robotic-assisted testing. Robots can carry out many thousands of individual tests each day.
Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.

2. Specimen Library
This has been set up at Eskitis Institute with

  • More than 45,000 plants, animals, and micro-organisms
  • Marine specimens >100g wet weight
  • Freeze-dried and powdered specimens

Queensland Marine Organisms have the most bioactive chemicals of all fauna tested to dat

Queensland Marine Organisms have the most bioactive chemicals of all fauna tested to date. Data supplied by Eskitis Institute, Griffith University, 2009.

3. Extract Library
Here the following occur

  • Solvents are pumped through powdered, freeze-dried specimens to produce extracts.
  • Each extract is stored in several 2D dot matrix-coded microtubes that have a 5-year shelf life.
  • Robotics pipette a small amount of the extract into 384 wells of 50µL (50 microlitres) capacity (200 mg of sample gives more than 800 assays or tests).
  • Extracts are placed in the Queensland Compound Library, where Nature Bank is stored.
2D matrix of microtubes containing extracts
Microtubes containing extracts. Note the 2D barcodes that help to keep track of individual microtubes. Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.
Robotics pipette a small amount of extract.
Robotics pipette a small amount of extract. Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.

The Nature Bank is made up of samples from many different countries in the Asia-Pacific area

The Nature Bank is made up of samples from many different countries in the Asia-Pacific area. It consists of fractionated extracts stored in the Queensland Compound Library. These are formed from crude extracts which have been purified to remove interfering chemicals. The extracts are split into 11 fractions for storage. Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.

4. High Throughput Screening

  • Bioactivity: Using robotics, each extract is tested for bioactivity against a drug target by means of an assay.
  • Drug Targets: Chemicals are tested for their effect on cardiovascular, respiratory, inflammatory, gastrointestinal and central nervous system disorders as well as in pain control, oncology (cancer treatment) and infection. This may occur by affecting cell membrane receptors, enzymes or other cellular processes.
  • Assays: The mechanism or test by which the effect of a biochemical on a biological process is measured. Robotics allows many thousands of assays to be carried out each day.
  • Isolation chemistry: The extracts are isolated from the original biota sample using high pressure liquid chromatography to identify the exact chemical that is causing the effect.
Extracts ready to be tested.
Extracts ready to be tested.
Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.
Results of assays are analysed.
The results of thousands of assays are analysed to create a "hit list".
Image: Eskitis Institute, Griffith University.

You may like to develop your scientific thinking skills with the structured discussion questions on Biochemicals from sponges in the For Teachers section.

Useful web links: Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, United Nations University - Queensland
Biodiscovery Collaboration.


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