The tiny Caribbean island of Saba is a relatively-hidden Caribbean gem.
Diving sites tend to attract the most tourists, and the Twilight Zone in Saba is among the most popular. Pinnacles from volcanic activity rise out of the ocean floor covered in reefs and teeming with colorful marine life. Hiding in the coral are tiger groupers, reef sharks, and sponges, particularly the orange elephant ear.
Sponges are the oldest and simplest animal, having survived on Earth for more than a million years. Although the medicinal properties of sponges have been known since the 1950s, it was not until 1993 that scientists discovered bacteria in the Orange Elephant Ear give off six types of "agelastatin", a chemical compound that kills cancer cells. Since then, scientists have tried to reproduce the substances in a lab. Unfortunately, unlike the sponge, our body does not naturally produce the bacteria.
In 2010, MIT professor Mohammad Movassaghi and his team found an easy and affordable method to produce all six types. Of course, more experiments need to be done, but this breakthrough gives scientists the chance to work with the pharmaceutical industry to come up with a drug that uses the agelastatin found in sponges.
Being the oldest surviving animal, it would probably be good to take some survival tips from the Orange Elephant Ear.