Medical Research Terpenes (general)

Terpenes from Marine-Derived Fungi

Written by Lydia Kariuki

Many people might assume that terpenes are only found in plants like cannabis, herbs, or spices, but that’s not the case, and it is emerging that a new class of terpenes from marine-derived fungi hold promise for terpenoid-based therapy.

Terpenes are biologically active aromatic hydrocarbons responsible for the unique scents emitted by many plants, and they generally serve two functions: attract pollinators and deter predators. Terpenoids differ in that they contain an atom other than carbon or hydrogen like oxygen.

Terpenoids have attracted a lot of interest lately as it emerges that these secondary metabolites have pharmacological activity that can be harnessed. Interestingly, it appears that marine-derived fungi also have a myriad of beneficial terpenoids that warrant further investigation for therapeutic relevance.

One recent study conducted by Sun Yat-sen University in China offers insight in this area. [1]

This review covered a five-year span between 2015 and 2019. The researchers reviewed published literature on the diverse chemical structures and biodiversity of marine-derived fungi that had been isolated and studied during this period.

In this analysis, 140 research papers were reviewed and in them 471 different terpenoids were identified from 133 marine fungal strains. The researchers noted that the number of new terpenoids identified increased from an average of 40 per year during 2010–2014 to 95 per year during 2015–2019. These included sesquiterpenes (188, 40%), meroterpenes (165, 35%), and diterpenes (75, 16%), which comprised the largest proportions of terpenes from marine fungi. They were followed by sesterterpenes (29, 6%), monoterpenes (11, 2%), and triterpenes (3, 1%).

Properties of Terpenes from Marine Fungi

From the analysis, sesquiterpenes, meroterpenes, and diterpenes make up the bigger proportion of this class of terpenoids. The fungal genera with the most terpenoids include Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Trichoderma, which were isolated from marine animals and aquatic plants. Marine sediment and hydrothermal vents were also sources of marine fungi.

Many of the isolated terpenoids showed bioactive properties, including cytotoxicity, antibacterial activity, enzyme inhibition, and anti-inflammatory activity. As one example, compound 470, one of five “unusual polycyclic meroterpenoids” isolated from mangrove fungus, demonstrated potent antiviral activity. This creates a need for clinical studies to research the relevance and safety of these novel compounds and their potential for terpenoid-based therapy. [1]

The review sheds light on the significance of marine fungi as a source of beneficial terpenes that can be harnessed for pharmacological use. The findings hold promise for the development of marine-based drugs.

Image Source

Dan Molter (shroomydan), Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0


  1. Jiang M, Wu Z, Guo H, Liu L, Chen S. A review of terpenes from marine-derived fungi 2015-2019. Marine Drugs. 2020;18(6):321. Journal Impact Factor: 4.073, Times Cited: 1 (PubMed)

About the author

Lydia Kariuki

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