Cosmetics and medicine could benefit from novel marine research

Providing potential solutions to reduce cellulite, developing sun screens in collaboration with high street chemists, producing glues that work underwater and investigating the potential of Irish cold water corals for improved bone reformation processes. These are just some of the results of an economically expanding enterprise, Marine Biotechnology, which has an estimated global value of €3.5- 4.5 billion each year.

Marine Biotechnology is simply using modern biological techniques to harness unique properties of marine plants, animals and bacteria for the benefit of mankind. Many of the examples given are already commercialised leading not only to new beneficial products, but new jobs and economic growth.

The benefit of this enterprise has been reinforced in a new report ‘Marine Biotechnology – A European strategy for Marine Biotechnology’ published by the European Science Foundation-Marine Board. To mark the publication of this strategic report, the Chief Executives of the Marine Institute, Dr Peter Heffernan, and the Science Foundation Ireland, Dr William Harris, met to explore strategic options for the promotion of marine biotechnology in Ireland.

This report outlines the benefits of marine biotechnology and identifies key areas for development in Europe. It also states that Europe lags behind the rest of the world in this sector, despite strengths in traditional biotechnology and the fact that the majority of European territory is underwater.

It emphasises that because marine organisms often belong to classes without terrestrial counterparts and live in environments with very different characteristics (temperature, salinity, pressure), they offer a unique range of novel compounds for new pharmaceuticals and diagnostics along with cleaner industrial and environmental products and processes.

"Marine biotechnology has the potential to impact significantly on everyday life and on the environment given the appropriate investment in R&D capabilities. The Marine Institute has played a key role in the development of the European Strategy for Marine Biotechnology", said Dr. Heffernan. "But more importantly, we hope that working with the Science Foundation of Ireland, we can stimulate activity at a national as well, considering our own extensive marine territory and marine research expertise", he explained.

Receiving a copy of the Report, Dr. Harris said "This united effort presents a special opportunity to leverage the research of the Marine Institute for maximum scientific, economic and environmental benefit for Ireland and we at SFI look forward to exploring these opportunities". The SFI was set up in 1999 to establish Ireland as a centre of research excellence in specific areas relevant to economic development.

Marine Biotechnology has excellent potential to help realise this objective. ‘Marine Biotechnology–A European strategy for Marine Biotechnology’ was prepared by an ESF-Marine Board Feasibility Study Group, (2000-2001). Dr. Maura Grealy, Dept. Biochemistry NUI-Galway, represented Ireland on this Group. In July 2001, the Marine Institute hosted a meeting between the Study Group members, Irish marine biotechnology researchers and SMEs to review and comment on a final draft of the report.