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By Melanie Vari

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 17, 1999 – The National)---A little "beastie" that chews through rocks is like something out of a Hollywood science fiction movie but, believe it or not, it does exist in the PNG seabed.

Overseas science and research-based organizations engaged in marine exploration here have discovered interesting biogenetic material.

Dr. Teatulohi Matainaho, a senior lecturer in pharmacology and head of the Basic Medical Sciences Department, said yesterday that most hydrothermal discoveries have only been made in the last 10-15 years and, therefore, there is a still need to know and understand much more about them.

Dr. Matainaho explained that biogenetic material includes bacteria and other microorganisms that exist in areas called hydrothermal regions and their existence is associated with mineralization.

He explained that these hydrothermal microbes actually help in the mineralization process and, therefore, there was a need to investigate their potential, especially in bio-medical research.

"These microbes exist in relation to mineral deposits and some may have the potential for pharmaceutical advances," he said.

An example was the discovery of a group of compounds along the southern coast of Motupore and Loloata, which showed that the compounds might have potential in killing the AIDS virus and curing cancer.

Other discoveries include the recent uncovering of primitive organisms in the Manus Basin that are believed to be 3,200 billion years old.

This was mentioned by Dr. Robert Findlay, the principal geologist of the PNG Geological Survey, who said that these thermophyllic bacteria get their energy from feeding on metallic sulphides.

"You can use these 'beasties' to help you in mining because they have the ability to chew up the rock and leave your gold and silver," he said.

He said it was cheaper than cyanide because one can grow bacteria, and it would help cut down the cost of on-shore mining activities.

Both doctors emphasized that the genetic industry was worth millions of dollars and these organisms' genetic structures were easily accessible. Thus they could help in the development of vaccines to cure diseases, they said.

As a result of on-going research and growing interest in PNG waters by overseas organizations, PNG BioNET has been set up to exert sovereignty over the country's marine resources and take control of research and exploration activities.

The network will help maximize benefits and ensure environmentally sustainable activities.

It also will enable long-term sustainability of resources, ensure that the resources and discoveries are protected and help others recognize the economic importance of these resources to the country.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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