FISHMUC - Bioactive properties of external mucus isolated from coastal fish of Macao and Portugal

Natural products have always been of unquestionable importance for the identification of molecules useful for humans. For example, approximately 85% of current diseases are treated with products derived from natural sources . However, considering the great variation among bioactive compounds and the large number of plants, animals, microorganisms and algae species, it is necessary to build up a standard and integrated approach to screen out new compounds that can carry human health benefits. In the past decades, the screening process to identify bioactive compounds, in particular in the pharmaceutical industry, has relied on a brute-force approach where compounds are tested in large numbers without considering the ecology or evolutionary history of the species from which they were extracted. However, the understanding of the species natural histories has been key to traditional approaches that have allowed the selection and use of bioactive compounds for many purposes, even when the underlying mechanisms were unknown. A more efficient approach to identify molecules of interest may thus be to combine modern methods for the characterization and testing of compounds with knowledge on the natural history of species, namely by observing and recording putative bioactivity in nature.

One important source of bioactive compounds in fish is their external mucus. It is produced by specialized cells in the fish epithelium and serves numerous ecological and physiological roles. These include protection against mechanical impact, osmoregulation, protection against chemical toxicants, intraspecific communication, parental feeding and, notoriously, protection against pathogens.

This project aims to explore the functions, mechanisms of action and the bioactive properties of mucus secreted by coastal fish occurring in Macao and in Portugal. The project combines the knowhow in fish physiology and ecology of teams at USJ-ISE, Macao, and ISPA-MARE, Portugal, with the experience in the extraction, isolation and bioactive testing of natural compounds of the team at UCP-CBQF, Portugal. The study will cover species from different families, geographical regions and habitats and will test various bioactive properties with the aim of increasing the potential to identify molecules of interest.

This project is jointly funded by the Macao Science and Technology Development Fund (FDCT) and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). Project reference: FDCT 0005/2019/APJ.