A chemical produced by“nuisance” seaweed which has been destroying coral reefs in Hawaii could be used to develop drugs to treat arthritis, scientists say.

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in US found the seaweed is packed with tiny photosynthetic organisms called “cyanobacterium” which produce compounds that have shown promise in combating bacterial infections.

It could also be used in future medicines to treat other chronic diseases from arthritis to cancer to heart trouble, the researchers said.

The researchers, who first found the organism in 2008 off the Kona coast of Hawaii, took samples in 2009 as they were overgrowing and smothering the corals underneath by releasing a chemical that was causing the corals to bleach.

Tests on the chemical revealed some surprising results - the seaweed was generating natural products called honaucins, which had potent anti-inflammation and bacteria-controlling properties, the Daily Mail reported.

“In different arenas these compounds could be helpful, such as treating chronic inflammatory conditions for which we currently don’t have really good medicines. Even nuisance pests, as it turns out, are not just pests,” said Prof William Gerwick, who led the research.

“These organisms have been on the planet for millions of years and so it is not surprising that they have evolved numerous strategies for competing with neighboring species, including chemical warfare,” added co-author Jennifer Smith.

“Several species of cyanobacteria and algae are known to produce novel compounds, many that have promising use in drug development for human and other uses.”

About 350 million people worldwide have arthritis that causes pain and inflammation within a joint. Currently, there is no cure for it though painkillers and non-steroidal drugs are often prescribed to help treat the symptoms.

“It’s a long road to go from this early-stage discovery to application in the clinic but it’s the only road if we want new and more efficacious medicines,” Prof Gerwick said.

The study was published in journal Chemistry & Biology.

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