Traditional farming is a hazardous occupation with particular risks that often take their toll on the health of people. Such risks include: exposure to infectious diseases such as malaria and schistoso-mes, and exposure to toxic chemicals commonly used as pesticides and fungicides. Underwater farming leads away from health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes because the subsequent lower costs encourage healthier eating and has encouraged the onset of new, pharmaceutical discoveries.

Thanks to a new pain medicine derived from an unlikely source: the venom of a snail from a coral reef off the Philippines. Called Prialt, patients with severe, chronic pain not alleviated by other treatments. The compound was first isolated by a University of Utah scientist who, as a boy in the Philippines, had been warned to be careful of swimming near the venomous snail.

Scientists say the ocean is a largely untapped reservoir of possible medicines, with at least as much potential as the rain forests that have been popular pharmaceutical hunting grounds and environmentalists are encouraged, hoping that drug companies will be allies in the quest to prevent the destruction of corals and sponges by fishing trawlers.

Wyeth, along with Bayer and Novartis, is among the few large drug companies with big natural-products programs, focusing its efforts on microbes from the soil and the sea. Most natural-product discovery and testing is handled by smaller firms and by academic institutions, such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, which then license their discoveries to companies. About 15 drug candidates derived from marine organisms are in various stages of clinical trials for cancer. Another half-dozen trials are under way for other diseases. One compound, derived from a creature called the sea squirt, is being tested on cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

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