Recent advances in science and technology have increased our understanding of the marine environment and the bioresources it contains. For a long time, our understanding of marine bioresources was hindered by the difficulty of ocean exploration and by the fact that the vast majority of marine life cannot be easily cultured in the laboratory. New ’omics tools and related technologies have changed that, enabling analysis of marine biodiversity at the molecular level. DNA sequencing has been used to access and study unculturable samples and has revealed surprising information about the extent of the diversity and the symbiotic nature of marine organisms.
The extreme environments of the marine environment have fostered the evolution of organisms with unique structures, metabolic pathways, reproductive systems and sensory and defence mechanisms. This biodiversity is likely to be an important source of new materials, feedstock, bioactive compounds, and biological and biochemical systems and processes, yet it remains largely untapped within a dynamic and shared ocean ecosystem.
Interest in marine biotechnology is expanding rapidly, based both on our growing knowledge of marine biodiversity, and the development of tools to access and study marine organisms and ecosystems. It is now clear that marine biotechnology has the potential to address the grand challenges of food and energy security and population health, and to contribute to green growth and sustainable industries. At the same time, marine bioresources also provide a number of important ecosystem services for the planet and its inhabitants which must be maintained.
Governments and private sector organisations around the world have begun to recognise the potential of marine biotechnology and are actively working to harness its potential. However there are several features of the marine environment which may necessitate new policy work to ensure the translation of new scientific and technological advances into economic prosperity in an environmentally sustainable manner.
OECD Global Forum on Biotechnology: Marine Biotechnology Enabling Solution for Ocean Productivity and Sustainability (Vancouver, Canada, 30-31 May 2012)