We've been following for years the great numismatic treasure salvaged from the 1857 wreck of the SS Central America.
Here's a story from the Columbus Dispatch about the ship's non-numismatic treasures, which have the potential to fight disease in
The greatest treasure of all in the SS Central America shipwreck off the South Carolina coast might not be gold bars and coins worth millions of
Microscopic organisms in the sediment below the wreck might reap a different kind of treasure — one that could save lives.
That’s the hope of research scientist Michael Lawman, whose Tampa biotech company Morphogenesis is sifting through the sediment in hopes of
finding microorganisms that could one day help treat cancer and other diseases.
Lawman is one of several scientists who used last summer’s probe of the 19th century shipwreck by Odyssey Marine Exploration to obtain samples
from the deep ocean floor. As is the case with many scientists, Lawman can’t afford a ship and equipment to dig up sediment, so he relies on
expeditions such as Odyssey’s.
“It’s a different kind of treasure than Odyssey usually looks for,” Lawman said. “Our interest is in the microorganisms in the ocean and in the
“We want to isolate those bacteria and see the processes they have to (help them) live in a very harsh environment.”
Morphogenesis researchers will analyze the sediment and try to grow colonies of the bacteria that inhabit it. If the colonies appear to be new
bacteria, “We’ll chase it to see what allows it to live at 7,000 feet” in the ocean, Lawman said.
From there, they’ll work to determine whether the bacteria could have medicinal uses.
The company already has found organisms from shallower ocean sediment with properties that could target cancer and infectious diseases. The SS
Central America sediment is the deepest they’ve obtained.
The potential, Lawman said, is huge.
Overseeing the shipwreck samples is Bob Evans, chief scientist for Recovery Limited Partnership, the Columbus-based company that hired Odyssey
this past spring to salvage treasure from the shipwreck.
Evans was involved in the original, successful search for the Central America in the late 1980s. That group pulled up gold, silver, artifacts and
sea creatures, but was derailed by decades of lawsuits and management problems.
The new effort is led by Ira Owen Kane, the court-appointed receiver for Recovery Limited.
“This natural environment is so unknown,” Evans said. “The prime purpose of the expedition is the recovery of treasure, but in the course of that,
we shouldn’t ignore the opportunity for this huge scientific opportunity.”
Odyssey uses a remotely operated vehicle called Zeus, which is lowered into the ocean from the ship and collects gold, artifacts and marine
Zeus sucks animals and sediment with a vacuum attachment. Samples are placed in containers that are returned to the surface, where they are
catalogued and preserved.
This past summer, Evans observed the results of an experiment he had left at the shipwreck site in
1990 — 3-foot-long blocks of wood, some pine and others oak.
The idea was to determine how quickly the wood — the same kind used to build the Central America — would disintegrate. “I thought the wood would
have maybe a 50-year life,” Evans said.
Instead, when Zeus pulled up the 4-inch-by-4-inch blocks, only a few inches remained.
A type of clam apparently had burrowed into the wood. None of the creatures remained, however, much to Evans’ disappointment.
To read the complete article, see:
Sea organisms from shipwreck could be real treasure to
Wayne Homren, Editor
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