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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 1 (2004), Issue 1, Pages 71-82

Traditional and Modern Biomedical Prospecting: Part I—the History

1Institut für Physiologische Chemie, Abteilung Angewandte Molekularbiologie, Universität, Duesbergweg 6, D-55099 Mainz, Germany
2Center for Marine Research, Ruder Boskovic Institute, HR-52210 Rovinj, Croatia

Received 27 January 2004; Accepted 2 February 2004

Copyright © 2004 Werner E. G. Müller et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Nature, especially the marine environment, provides the most effective drugs used in human therapy. Among the metazoans, the marine sponges (phylum Porifera), which are sessile filter feeders, produce the most potent and highly selective bioactive secondary metabolites. These animals (or their associated symbiotic microorganisms) synthesize secondary metabolites whose activity and selectivity has developed during their long evolutionary history (evochemistry). The exploitation of these resources has become possible due to the progress in molecular and cell biology. BIOTECmarin, the German Center of Excellence follows this rationale. In the past, these animals have been successfully and extensively utilized to isolate bioactive compounds and biomaterials for human benefit. Pharmaceuticals prepared from marine animals, primarily sponges, have been applied since ancient times (Hippocrates, Aristotle and later Plinius). It has been reported that extracts and/or components from sponges can be used for the treatment of specific diseases. For a systematic and applied-oriented exploitation, the successful development of effective compounds largely depends on quality of the institutional infrastructure of marine stations and more so on the biodiversity. The Center for Marine Research in Rovinj (Croatia) fulfils these prerequisites. Founded in 1891, this institute has to its credit major discoveries related to exploitation of secondary metabolites/biomaterials from sponges for therapeutical application and to obtain biomaterials for general wellbeing.This is the first part of a review focusing on biomedical prospecting. Here, we have mainly described the historic background. The details of techniques, substances, approaches and outlooks will be discussed in the second part.