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Marine biodiscovery, biotechnology and aquaculture: the blue farm

An unprecedented focus on the WA marine estate for conservation, medical research and the development of the oil and gas industry is providing new opportunities to explore marine biodiversity.

Our pristine and biodiverse oceans have the potential to offer a wealth of raw, genetic materials to develop pharmaceutical and other biotechnology products.

Many of WA’s marine species are found nowhere else in the world. 

Sponges and sea squirts have some of the world’s highest rates of anti-tumour activity and have the potential to be used in cancer screening programs while cyanobacteria have been identified as having the potential to develop biofuels. Ingredients from marine filter feeders such as sponges are being used in cosmetics, medicine, sunscreens, anti foulants and industrial enzymes.

WAMSI projects are being carried out by the WA Department of Fisheries, The University of WA, the WA Museum and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). An external partner, the WA Institute of Medical Research, is also involved.

Research projects include:

• establishing a WA Marine Bioresources Library (WAMBL) with inventory of frozen marine samples and georeferenced information which will be a central point for marine specimens curated elsewhere;

• collating AIMS and WAMSI specimens into WA Museum’s repository;
• identifying valuable compounds from marine biodiversity;
• enhancing marine, microbial, chemical and biomedicinal sciences;
• using marine samples in screening programs targeting breast cancer;
• analysing marine and estuarine bacteria for compounds which can be used to control bacterial infections;
• encouraging the introduction of WA biotechnology legislation to improve biodiscovery research investment and exploration prospects;
• establishing estuarine and oceanic sampling sites in the Perth metropolitan area;
• establishing screening and quantitative assays for the detection of organisms producing chemical compounds; and
• assessing the application of QQCs in disease control and biofouling.

Preliminary achievements and findings

• The WA Marine Bioresources Library (WAMBL) was launched in March 2009.
• A database was created to track frozen samples in and out of WAMBL.
• A draft document to enable researchers access to WAMBL was finalised.
• AIMS’ Townsville office provided extracts of WA marine species to the Museum for biodiscovery research.
• A total of 93 bacteria-producing compounds have been isolated.
 

Image courtesy of Clay Bryce, Western Australian Museum.