Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla

Press release 10.2.2006

A unique collection of bacterial strains from the Arctic

Material for anti-cancer drug screening

The Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) has isolated more than 500 bacterial strains from Lapland and Spitzbergen. The collection contains several previously unknown bacterial strains that function well under cold conditions.

A European pharmaceuticals company has bought the rights to start screening the collection of bacterial strains, looking for possible anti-cancer drug candidates. Researchers of Viikki Drug Discovery Technology Center (DDTC), University of Helsinki, had previously detected antibiotic characteristics amongst the collection of bacterial strains.

The collection of bacterial strains belongs to an extensive research project on Arctic microbiology, in which several research institutions and companies in Rovaniemi have participated. It was initiated in 2001, and the main funding has been provided by the Academy of Finland and the National Technology Agency of Finland (Tekes). The research was conducted in Metla’s Rovaniemi research unit.

Researcher, Dr Minna Männistö has studied bacterial diversity in the boreal and arctic alpine environments in Lapland and Spitzbergen. According to her, as many as half of the bacterial strains studied represent novel species. Additionally, some of the isolated strains cannot be classified into any previously known genera and therefore, besides the new bacterial strains there are also new bacterial genera in Lapland.

– Several of the Pseudomonas bacterial strains isolated from soil samples from Lapland showed anti-microbial characteristics that effectively prevent the growth of streptococci that cause, for example, a sore throat, reports Männistö on the research results. The Pseudomonas bacterial genus is extremely common in the soil of Lapland; 20-25% of the isolated strains are members of this genus. Bacteria in the culture collection are harmless to humans, for they stop growing at + 37 ºC.

The bacteria collected grow best at 0 - +30º C, some even at -5º C. Dr Männistö is currently exploring the mechanism employed by bacteria to survive and maintain their vital functions even when the temperature is below freezing point. A knowledge of the cold-tolerance mechanisms of bacteria will be among key issues in the search for biotechnical applications for cold environments.

The research was initiated because there is little information available about micro-organisms in Lapland; by exploring the unknown microbial colonies researchers hope to find new drug candidates. Furthermore, in the Nordic area there is a need for micro-organisms that provide a basis for developing biotechnology to suit cold environments.

The isolated bacterial strain colonies are stored in the Rovaniemi research unit of Metla, and the use and costs of use are by agreement with Metla. Scientists can use the bacterial strain collection for research purposes. The strains can also be screened for pharmaceutical needs and for biotechnical applications.

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