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A

recent survey carried out by the Atlantic Bluetech

Project of 76 companies in the marine biotechnology

sector indicated that marine biotechnology in the

European Atlantic area is diverse, dynamic and growing fast

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HpHP-jAFbM&feature=youtu.be).

The survey also shows that industry-university engagement and

co-operation is one of the main drivers for innovation in this area,

especially in health, cosmetics and food products and processes.

One of Europe’s most westerly universities, the National University

of Ireland (NUI), Galway, is a focus for marine biodiscovery

research and a prime location for marine science in Ireland

(https://vimeo.com/123849502). Its

Western approaches

provide access to a diversity of marine organisms and habitats

from the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Researchers at the university’s

Ryan Institute for Environment, Marine and Energy Research

(http://www.ryaninstitute.ie) ha

ve invested decades of research

into the taxonomy and ecology of marine organisms. Added to

this is a capacity to culture experimental organisms, ranging from

deep-sea bacteria and fungi within the School of Natural

Sciences to algae, marine invertebrates and fish at a state-of-the-

art aquaculture facility at Carna Research Station situated on the

shores of the Atlantic. Coastal and deep-sea explorations through

the Irish national research vessels are yielding exciting data from

new, previously unexplored habitats.

The Biodiversity and Bioresources Research Cluster

(http://www.ryaninstitute.ie/research/biodiversity-and- bioresources/) has developed an integrated and multidisci

plinary

approach to marine biodiscovery focusing on key targets in drug-

resistant cancers, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and biofouling

organisms, and screening widely for novelty via extensive

collaborations in Europe and the US.

Taking ideas from Nature

For example, sponges have been battling a chemical warfare on

their competitors and enemies for 600 million years. These

sedentary organisms are under investigation at NUI Galway as a

prime source of compounds and materials of interest (e.g. novel

drugs, therapeutics, fibre optics, novel drug delivery systems).

Many other marine organisms have the potential to improve

human health and the economy: such as barnacles as inspiration

for novel underwater adhesive development for use in surgery, or

in marine antifouling, while jellyfish may provide a new range of

neurotoxins or analgesics.

Extracts from marine organisms collected on and off the Irish

coastal shelf are being purified by chemists at the Marine

Biodiscovery Laboratory in the School of Chemistry at NUI Galway.

Purified compounds are put through a suite of assays in

microbiology and fungal biotechnology laboratories, and through

specific anticancer assays in the School of Pharmacology. Cellular

and genetic pathways responsible for bioactivity, and variations in

their chemistry are assessed through state-of-the-art approaches

in cell biology, metabolomics, genomics, expression and

functional studies. Viable production systems and pathways, e.g.

next-generation biorefineries, are considered paramount to further

product development. Through this collaborative and systems

biology approach from organismal biology through to the ‘omics’,

we provide an holistic and inclusive approach that is guaranteed

to provide high impact results and novel applications.

Funding

Biodiscovery is the first stage of the opportunity for blue growth,

yet it is expensive and yields products slowly, making the industry

reluctant to provide resources to support these efforts. Funding

agencies are also slow to commit funds to the essential first

steps of discovery – collection, identification and screening of

organisms – focusing instead on the greater impact of projects

further along the discovery pipeline. Biodiscovery at NUI Galway

has received national funding from the Irish Marine Institute

(Beaufort Biodiscovery Programme), Science Foundation Ireland

and the Irish Research Council.

Given the myriad organisms and millions of different possible

chemicals and products, it will only take time and effort to find

the golden egg. By applying a more synergistic approach, we

are understanding key elements of organismal interactions as

well as finding novel applications. Investment from industry and

funding agencies into early stages of biodiscovery can have far-

reaching benefits above and beyond the original goal. The

location, expertise, facilities and cohesive research environment

at NUI Galway make it an ideal location for participation in

pan-European networks such as the European Marine

Biological Resource Centre

(https://www.EMBRC.eu), the

Microbial Resource Research Infrastructure

(http://www.mirri.org), and

others.

Professor Grace McCormack, Professor Bill Baker

Dr Ilaria Nardello and Dr Anne Marie Power

Ryan Institute

School of Natural Sciences

National University of Ireland Galway

te l :

+353 (0)91 492321

grace.mccormack@nuigalway.ie http://www.nuigalway.ie/faculties_departments/zoology/m ccormack/index.html

The temperate nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean provide a priceless

living laboratory of marine organisms and habitats, and the possibilities of this

natural source are becoming increasingly evident

Untapped potential

www.horizon2020projects.com

H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L

I S S U E S E V E N

121

P R O F I L E

B I O T E C H N O L O G Y F O R H E A L T H