Marine Biotechnology in New Zealand

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National strategy for biotechnology

The New Zealand Biotechnology Strategy was published in May 2003. In the 2000s, New Zealand put about 25% of its national R&D budget into biotechnology, almost NZ$200M pa. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise reported in 2006 that it spent about NZ$11.5M on facilitating biotechnology development and industrial activity. NZTE’s 10-year vision is to make New Zealand a world leader in niche biotechnology applications. It includes marine biotechnology within an environment and industry sub-sector of biotechnology.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

There is no specific national strategy but, in 2007, MoRST (The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology produced a roadmap for biotechnology research, which included marine biotechnology as a strategic component [1]. Molecular aquaculture and marine bioactives were identified as the two major areas of strength in research. The roadmap noted that national needs for biosecurity, understanding of biodiversity, generation of new products including food, increased productivity and environmentally-sustainable industrial development all acted as triggers for government investment in or co-funding of marine bioresource research and development. It was recognised that there was a need to build research capacity and increase industry’s ability to draw and apply research from this. Public investment in marine biotechnology, at c. $NZ4.5M in the 2004-2005 funding year, was about 2% of total biotechnology funding, 57% on use of genetics and biotechnology in aquaculture and 43% on bioactive extraction, characterisation and exploitation. Increased investment should go into basic and targeted research that would underpin future development, and helping links between industry and research.

The industry-led New Zealand Aquaculture Strategy was published in 2006, with a commitment to adoption of innovation and an economic drive towards a market target of over NZ$ 1B by 2025 [2]. The Five-Year Action Plan for the Aquaculture Industry was published by the government in 2012 [3]. Although neither document refers to biotechnology, using ‘innovation’ or ‘industry-led innovation’ instead, funding rounds since adoption of the strategy have included aquaculture biotechnology.


It is not clear whether there are any coordinated marine biotechnology programmes in place.

Centres of marine biotechnology research

NIWA (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [4]) works in marine biodiversity and aquaculture, and bio-oil from algae, but has reduced its activities in marine biotechnology in recent years. The Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund has supported one project on a small-scale, to facilitate links in the area of natural bioactives, including marine-origin, managed by NIWA [5]. The institute has collaborated in the past with a New Zealand based sea food company Ngai Tahu Seafood, to explore the cosmetics market by isolating and identifying bioactives from sea food by-products and by-catch species, and with MalCorp Biodiscoveries on anti-inflammatory compounds for pharmaceuticals, but it isn’t clear if these are current activities [6].

The Cawthron Institute has an aquatic biotechnology department involved in algal technologies, environmental monitoring and seafood safety [7]. The Institute has significant experience with algal biology and a commercial algal production system for its shellfish hatchery, and is also involved in developing and commercially-exploiting its discoveries. In the microalgal field, the Cawthron has recently installed a 17-vessel automated photobioreactor system, which uses an innovative growth programme with multivariant analysis and control, to simulate as near-industrial conditions as possible and optimise algal performance.

The University of Waikato collaborates with the USA National Cancer Institute on marine bioactives and is a partner in an EU-funded marine bioactives project PharmaSea. Current activities include agrochemical applications of marine bioactives and biotechnology for aquaculture. Relevant departments include the Environmental Research Institute [8], Biological Sciences [9] and the Coastal Marine Group [10].


The University of Canterbury’s national marine bioresource collection was destroyed in the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011; the University of Waikato is maintaining this as a catalogue collection of recorded location information for the collection whilst a programme of re-sampling is to take place.

The Cawthron Institute manages what is effectively the national collection of micro-algae and cyanobacteria [11]. This is supported by state-of-the-art cryopreservation technology and contains many unique species, including those from unique environments around New Zealand, the Pacific and Antarctica.



This draft country profile is based on available online information sources and contributions from various country experts and stakeholders. It does not aim nor claim to be complete or final, but should be considered as a dynamic and living information resource that will be elaborated, updated and improved as more information becomes available, including further inputs from experts and stakeholders.

The information on this page is based on information initially compiled by Meredith Lloyd-Evans (BioBridge) as part of the CSA MarineBiotech Project activities (2011-2013).