Europe can become a global leader in marine biotechnology within 10 years, according to a new report from the Marine Board of the European Science Foundation, of which the National Oceanography Centre is a member. Marine biotech currently represents a 2.8 billion euro market globally, with potential to grow up to 12% annually if industry and academics work together.
Europe’s four seas and two oceans provide a huge variety of conditions of temperature, pressure, light and chemistry, from shallow coastal waters to the deep ocean. The adaptations which have enabled marine organisms to thrive in these conditions have resulted in a living library of diversity which is largely unexplored and underexploited. Marine biotechnologists can develop new products and services based on these resources that can contribute to addressing critical future challenges such as a sustainable supply of food and energy, development of new drugs and health treatments, and providing new industrial materials and processes.
“Marine biotechnology not only creates jobs and wealth, it can also contribute to the development of greener, smarter economies,” said Lars Horn of the Research Council of Norway and Chair of the Marine Board. “Japan, China and the USA are already investing heavily in marine biotechnology. If we fail to act, Europe will lose out.”
Biofuels are just one example of how marine biotech can help deliver the Europe 2020 strategy: cultivating microalgae for fuel could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. This technology is perhaps the most promising way of harnessing the ocean’s bioenergy, but needs more in-depth research to cut costs and increase production.
Europe’s waters also offer a potential source of drugs, biomaterials and industrial products such as biopolymers. More than 13 marine-derived treatments are already in clinical development, many targeting cancer. There is also scope for marine biotech to further improve the capacity of aquaculture to meet Europe’s growing demand for sustainable, healthy seafood.
The recently published Marine Board position paper ‘Marine Biotechnology: A New Vision and Strategy for Europe’ provides a roadmap for European research in this field and sets out an ambitious but achievable science and policy agenda for the next decade. The Marine Board predicts that with the right actions taken now, Europe could be a world leader in the field of marine biotechnology by 2020. The actions needed are:
- developing new research strategies and programmes for marine biotechnology, aligned across the national, regional and pan-European levels
- improving the technology transfer pathways to strengthen collaboration between academic research and industry
- securing a fair and equitable access to marine genetic resources to support European innovation in this growing area
- creating a stronger identity and communicating to raise awareness of European marine biotechnology research
The Marine Board 2020 Vision for European Marine Biotechnology was presented to Maive Rute, European Commission DG Research Director of Biotechnologies, Agriculture and Food at the recent EurOCEAN 2010 conference in Ostend, Belgium. She commented “The recent developments in the area of Marine Biotechnology promise to be very important for example for applications in the medical sector, by developing new drugs and diagnostic devices.”