A Rare FreshWater Sponge DISCOVERY
For over 50 years, marine sponges have been known to be one of the world’s most valuable source of pharmaceuticals. Over 600 prescription drugs have been developed from compounds found in aquatic sponges.
Maria Villani, a Russian-educated physician and biomarine scientist, is one of the world’s leading authorities on freshwater sponges, their biology and their biochemistry. Many years ago while studying a particular sponge species, she identified unique potent bioactive compounds. These compounds possess unique and extremely powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.
The discovery of these compounds are a potential revolution for the treatment of variuos skin diseases.
The specific variant of sponge thrives in an environmentally unique National Reserve protected by UNESCO. The bioactive compounds are the result of millions of years of evolution and are produced at a very specific time in its life cycle in response to changes in its local micro-environment.
The bioactive compounds found in this sponge variant have not been identified in any other species or variant of freshwater sponges ever studied. The compounds are unique to science and unique in their ability to treat and heal skin disease.
Sustainable Wild Harvest for Large-Scale Production
As with any non-domesticated wild species, a limiting factor in discovering and harnessing the nearly infinite products of biodiversity is availability, consistency, and reproducibility. Biologic products are highly variable, even within the same species depending on a variety of intercalating factors. Variability in soils, substrates, temperature, oxygen, humidity, predators, pollutants, winds, currents, tides and many other factors, as well as time of the life cycle can dramatically alter the chemical and biological properties of bio-active compounds that are or can be harvested. The same product, raised or harvested in different conditions may be beneficial one time and not the next.
Almost all useful bioactive products originate with domesticated species. Domestication allows for controlling the setting and environment to a degree that is not commonly found in nature and this in turn allows for a consistent, useable and scalable product. A consistent, useable and scalable product results in other consistent, useable, and scalable products. For example, soybeans become milk, burgers, oils, hand creams, floors, pens, crayons and hundreds of other products.
However, unlike the soybean example, for marine based products, nature rarely yields to commercially viable domestication. However, for Villani’s discovery, while not fully domesticated, the unique sponge uniquely meets criteria that are necessary for the production of a useful consistent product. In fact nature has set up a controlled ecosystem, which resides in a protected remote area quite isolated from the usual diversity in environmental conditions. Seasonal changes of the environment and quality of substrata in the water facilitate perfect conditions for the sponge life cycle. The sponge grows in a harvestable contiguous colony. The sponge’s annual lifespan allows for an annual harvest and renews itself every year (much like the harvest of an agricultural crop.) This permits a controlled product to be taken in an annual harvest. This naturally unique and government protected sanctuary is as close to a laboratory controlled environment as is likely possible in a natural marine environment. While the requirements of the sponge and its associated commensurate microbiologic flora prevent its actual domestication, nature has provided this geographically isolated area with perfect conditions for “farm” cultivation and annual harvest of sponges with the chemical consistency of a biomass.
Unlike soybeans, the sponge is not a commodity product. It cannot be transplanted and grown elsewhere. Widespread cultivation and off site farming is not possible because the production of the compounds is strictly milieu-dependent. Therefore, the benefits of sponge domestication in the National Reserve are present without the commodity status that often accompanies domestication.
To make “farming” commercially useful and sustainable, Villani has developed a variety of proprietary technologies and protocols.
- Villani techniques and protocols allow for the collection of the sponge biomass with batch-to-batch and year-to-year chemical and bioactive consistency, in a manner that does not disturb the sponge’s equilibrium.
- The bioactive compounds of interest are produced by the sponge only one week a year – the precise time is determined by Villani based on proprietary "know-how".
- Processing, production, and preservation techniques allows for a sustainable annual wild harvest and capture of the chemical compounds of interest.
- The entire target sponge biomass is used, without any waste, allowing for the production of adequate quantity of the raw material without the need of chemical synthesis. This raw material can then be processed via a proprietary technique into either active ingredients for a drug substance or into cosmetic ingredients.
Villani, together with prominent scientific institutions and local resource management organizations, has developed a management plan for a sustainable sponge harvest, which also addresses equitable sharing of benefits by local communities dependent on these resources. This plan was adopted before large-scale extraction of sponges began.