Research Highlight

Mangrove alga could kill cervical cancer cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.3 Published online 11 January 2021

Several organic compounds found in a marine green alga can annihilate specific human cervical cancer cells, a study reveals1.

The alga, isolated from India’s Sundarbans mangrove forest, is rich in anti-cancer fatty acids and other chemicals that have arrested and eventually wiped out the cancer cells in a lab dish, a team of biologists has found.   

Millions of women aged over 15 years in India are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery are expensive. Such therapies also unleash side effects.

To find a safer alternative, scientists from the University of Calcutta and Presidency University, both in Kolkata, India, prepared extracts using the marine alga Chaetomorpha brachygona. They then tested the efficiency of the extracts in stopping the growth of a specific human cervical cancer cell in laboratory experiments. 

The researchers found that a specific dose of the extract killed the cancer cells. Exposure to the extract increased the production of a reactive oxygen species that stressed the cells to death. However, they didn’t find any markers for apoptosis, a process of controlled cell death.

Instead, they identified marker proteins that point to autophagy, a cellular process that helps degrade defunct organelles and large molecules.  

The bioactive compounds present in the algal extract induced cell death through autophagy. The autophagy, the researchers say, could potentially be used as a target for cancer treatment, particularly for cervical cancer. 



1. Majumder, I. et al. Chloroform fraction of Chaetomorpha brachygona, a marine green alga from Indian Sundarbans inducing autophagy in cervical cancer cells in vitroSci. Rep. 10, 21784 (2020)