Tap the enormous potential
of marine species for developing new pharmaceuticals and biomaterials,
and apply the tools of biotechnology to restore and monitor the
In 1990, leading scientists
predicted that the application of the modern tools of biotechnology
and molecular and cellular biology to marine organisms and ecosystems
would create a revolution in the ocean sciences that would be
fundamental in nature, exponential in pace, and unprecedented
in its scientific and economic impacts. In the decade that has
followed this prediction, stunning results have been reported
as the tools of marine biotechnology have been applied to solve
problems in the areas of public health and human disease, seafood
safety and supply, new materials and processes, and marine ecosystem
restoration and remediation.
Many classes of marine organisms
demonstrate a wide variety of compounds with unique structural
features that suggest medicinal, agricultural, and industrial
applications. However, even though 80% of all life forms on Earth
are present only in the oceans, their enormous potential as the
basis for new products remains largely unexplored. The U.S. government
has traditionally invested less than 1% of its total biotechnology
research and development budget in marine biotechnology. Productive
new avenues for the commercial development of marine-derived
compounds will enhance the use of aquatic resources and contribute
to the global economy.
- There may exist potential
risks related to the release of genetically altered species within
the marine environment.
- Current technology is inadequate
both to access remote marine biotechnology sites and to commercially
develop marine biotechnology products.
- A lack of information about
baseline conditions of the marine environment makes it difficult
to assess the environmental impacts of biotechnology.
- There is no mechanism currently
in place to ensure that profits derived from publicly owned resources
will be shared with the public and used appropriately.
- Increase support for sustainable
harvesting and testing of marine compounds by both government
agencies and commercial pharmaceutical companies as possible
treatments for AIDS, inflammatory or infectious diseases, and
- Assess the potential risks
of genetically modified marine organisms to human health, marine
diversity, and the environment, and communicate any concerns
to the public.
- Develop investment incentives
to encourage partnerships with academia and industry in marine
- Support research on the environmental
effects of extracting marine organisms for biotechnology purposes.
- Support the application to
marine sciences of modern biotechnology tools commonly used in
the biomedical arena.
- Develop technologies to access
and develop marine biotechnology sites, such as remote and manned
submersibles, and techniques to screen products and commercially
reproduce chemical compounds without requiring more raw material.
- Focus on organisms found in
extreme environments to identify unique products with high commercial
- Consider establishing a federal
marine environment fund to benefit from royalties and payments
from commercial uses of federally owned resources.
For more information
Dozens of promising sea-based
products are being developed, including a cancer therapy made
from algae and a painkiller taken from snails. Other products,
such as an anti-inflammatory drug extracted from an organism
called the Caribbean sea whip, are under review by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration.