The marine environment has long been known to be species-rich and to be a source of molecules with interesting and beneficial biochemical and clinical properties. However, despite some notable successes the potential of the 'marine pipeline' has yet to be fully realized. Recent studies involving members of the nuclear receptor superfamily illustrate the chemical richness of molecules from marine species and helps to re-emphasize the translational possibilities of natural products in drug discovery. In this issue of the Biochemical Journal Wang et al. describe the identification and characterization of such a compound, an agonist for the retinoic acid receptor isolated from the sponges Luffariella sp. and Fascaplysinopsis.