Curaçao is an island the southern Caribbean. Its arid, limestone terrain is harsh, at times almost desolate. Yet its sun-beaten, dry ecosystem may host vegetation that could hold some the secret for future medical cures. On land, the divi divi tree has shown a remarkable ability to fight staph infections. Under water, a local algae called Mermaid's Hair has proven to have strong, anti-cancer properties.
The Divi Divi
The Divi Divi tree in the Caesalpinia family and a relative of eucalyptus trees, is found only in the Caribbean.
On Curaçao, it grows mostly around Christoffel Park. It has shown a remarkable ability to fight staph infections.
Biologist John DeFreitas from a local institute called
CARMABI (Caribbean Research & Management of Biodiversity) is working to further scientific understanding of
this ancient medicinal plant.
View video of Biologist John DeFreitas collecting the divi divi.
View video of DeFreitas in the lab.
Although lyngbya majuscala or "mermaid's hair" is found in many Caribbean bays, for some reason still unknown to scientists, the mermaid's hair in Curaçao's Spanish Water's bay produces an amazing and promising substance called Curacin A.
Mermaid's hair is actually a giant bacteria. It grows underwater in the mangrove along the trellises. It has a fluffy reddish color underwater. Once taken to the "on board lab", it appears as blackish, matted fiber.
Under the microscope, the cells look like little pancakes or coins stacked into these long filaments all encased of that sheet-like material.
It is really quite a remarkable organism, Oregon State University researcher Dr. Bill Gerwick first collected the blue-green algae here in December 1991. He named its medicinal compound Curacin A in honor of the island of Curaçao where he explored for compounds that might be useful to treat human disease.
Dr. Gerwick says, "It's pretty amazing to think that an algae growing under a mangrove in a little bay in the west
coast of Curaçao in the middle of the Caribbean could yield the compound that could be ultimately use to treat cancer."
View more of Dr. Bill Gerwick talk about the algae.