A healthy ocean can help fight pandemics

Dialogo Chino

Covid-19 is forcing the world to rethink our economies, supply chains and science. Widespread inconsideration of biology and ecology in planning have in part led to the challenging circumstances we are now in.

We must think about how we emerge in a new and more sustainable post-crisis world that places living resources at its heart. When thinking about life on Earth, there is no better place to start than the ocean. Life was born here, it produces 70% of Earth’s oxygen, and three-quarters of all animal biomass.

There is a long history of ocean organisms contributing to biomedical science and biotechnology. Electrical impulses in the nervous system were understood by studying squid; livers and the immune system were illuminated by sharks; secrets of fertilisation and sight revealed through horseshoe crabs. New laboratory techniques have also been developed: the near-universal marker of gene expression, green fluorescent protein (GFP), was derived from jellyfish. Enzymes from sea sponges and deep-sea vent worms have been used to start and stop reactions, while horseshoe crab blood reagents are commonly used to test for bacteria.

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