Ben Forward, of the Research and Productivity Council (RPC), said his research group was looking for marine bacteria that could help protect young fish in the salmon farming industry.
But some of the microscopic bacterial extracts that were good for salmon could also protect humans from cancer and infectious bacteria, he said.
Marine bacteria haven't been studied as much as other types because they're hard to grow, said Forward.
But his team has developed some secret growth media at a lab in Fredericton.
They've been raising probiotic bacteria to help protect the health of young fish in salmon hatcheries.
Now, a research partner in North Carolina has found that some of those bacteria show potential benefits for human health, producing chemicals that test positive for antibiotic and anti-cancer effects.
"We have a number of candidates there that we're now sort of in the process of bulking up our production so that we can produce more of the compound and then go on to do some more detailed characterizations to find out a little bit more about the compounds and what their properties and specificities are," Forward said.
'The neat thing about bacteria is that they can have quite complex biochemistries, which allows them to synthesize some very complicated molecules that you probably couldn't synthesize.' —Ben Forward, research scientist
The RPC lab has collected a living library of deep-frozen marine bacteria species from the Bay of Fundy and other Atlantic waters.
Based on genetic testing, a dozen species may be new to science.
Forward said there may be an undiscovered treasure of new drugs being produced naturally by bacteria.
"The neat thing about bacteria is that they can have quite complex biochemistries, which allows them to synthesize some very complicated molecules that you probably couldn't synthesize or probably would have a lot of difficulty synthesizing in the lab, probably at great expense.
"So, bacteria could be a very renewable, sustainable, better production system for that."
And there's no shortage of marine bacteria to test, he said, with billions of them in every litre of sea water.