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Posted: May 4, 2004

Sea slug protein could benefit marine industry

Poul Olson, 404/463-9433

ATLANTA -- A Center for Behavioral Neuroscience research team led by Georgia State University biologist Charles Derby has identified the genetic sequence of an anti-bacterial protein — Escapin — found in the purple ink discharged by sea slugs or hares upon encountering predators. The finding may help scientists develop environmentally friendly compounds that prevent the growth of bacterial biofilms – which typically appear as slime -- on ships’ hulls, fishermen’s traps and nets, and other marine products.

Biofilm formation is often a precursor to the growth of barnacles and other organisms that can damage ships, machinery and tools. To prevent biofilms from forming, the marine industry typically coats its product surfaces with toxic metals, such as copper.

Escapin, which chemically resembles the toxins of some venomous snakes, has properties that naturally prevent bacteria formation. The protein was first identified and described by Derby’s former doctoral student Paul Johnson, along with Georgia State researchers Hsiuchin Yang, Phang Tai and Cynthia Kicklighter.

Although Escapin could be an economically viable alternative to heavy metals, producing it on a mass scale, either naturally or synthetically, will be challenging, Derby said. He has filed a provisional patent for Escapin’s genetic sequence and is currently writing an academic paper on the protein.

CBN, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center consisting of more than 90 neuroscientists at eight metro Atlanta colleges and universities, conducts research on the basic neurobiology of complex social behaviors. Its programs have led to a breakthrough treatment for anxiety-related disorders and new understanding of the potential roles of the neurochemicals vasopressin and oxytocin in autism. CBN's workforce training programs also have contributed significantly to enhancing the diversity of Georgia's burgeoning biotechnology industry.


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