Natural product antibiotics from the deep-sea

Exploring deep-sea environments to find new natural products with antimicrobial activity

What is the problem?

The antibiotic discovery pipeline is depleted with no new class of antibiotics developed since the 1980's. Restoring the antibiotic discovery pipeline is an urgent race against time to find novel classes of antibiotics.     

Potential solution

Marine natural products are an untapped reserve of potential antibacterial agents, Dr Paul Race (School of Biochemistry and BrisSynBio) and his team are combining the innovations of synthetic biology with remote robotic environmental sampling to find new leads in the fight against AMR. The team has been recovering environmental samples from unexplored regions of the Atlantic Ocean sea bed and has isolated over a thousand uncharacterised microorganisms and six new natural product based antibiotic leads.

A complementry team, led by Dr Paul Curnow (School of Biochemistry), is bioprospecting marine sponges, gathered from the Antartic by geochemist Dr Kate Hendry (School of Earth Sciences), for novel antimicrobials which involves culturing rare deep-sea sponge-associated bacteria to isolate promising antibiotic producers from this previously untested and isolated environment. 

Next steps

Using classical microbiology, genomic analysis and protein purification techniques, the teams will identify lead compounds and test them against multiple strains of resistant bacteria.

Paul Race's team
Members of the 'antibiotics in the abyss' discovery team Image credit: University of Bristol

Researchers involved

  • Dr Paul Race (School of Biochemistry)
  • Prof Chris Willis (School of Chemistry) 
  • Dr Catherine Back (School of Biochemistry)
  • Dr Martin Challand (School of Biochemistry)
  • Jorge Ojeda Gomez (School of Biochemistry)
  • Henry Stennett (School of Biochemistry)
  • Dr Paul Curnow (School of Biochemistry)
  • Dr Kate Hendry (School of Earth Sciences)
  • Sam Williams (School of Biochemistry)


  • BrisSynBio - a BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre
  • EPSRC SynBio CDT studentship (Henry Stennett) 
  • GW4 MRC Biomed DTP studentship (Sam Williams)


Dr Paul Race
Tel: +44 (0)117 33 11835

Dr Paul Curnow
Tel: +44 (0)117 33 11837  

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