Marine Biotechnology in USA

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National strategy for biotechnology

In September 2011, President Obama announced a National Bioeconomy Blueprint detailing Administration-wide steps to harness biological research innovations and address national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment. The Blueprint was released April 2012 [1].

National strategy for marine biotechnology

There is no nationally coordinated strategy for marine biotechnology in the USA. Although marine biotechnology is not mentioned specifically in the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, biodiesel from algae and biosensor for marine pollution are used as examples of US innovation and conservation and management of marine resources are described as ‘critically important to a bioeconomy’. Marine biotechnology was mentioned in a National Science Council report in 1995 .


The NSF (National Science Foundation [2]) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950, with an annual budget of about $6.9 billion (FY 2010). It funds c. 20% of all publicly-funded academic basic research in all non-medical fields. BIO (the Directorate for Biological Sciences) managed the Microbiology Observatories (MO) and Microbial Interactions and Processes (MIP) programmes, which included significant elements of marine ecology, microbiology and biotechnology. BIO’s total funding for 2011 and 2012 is approximately $712M, rising to $733M in 2013. The NSF is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics.

The USA’s NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [3]) coordinates most of the applied marine biotechnology research in USA. Research is supported through the National Sea Grant College Program [4], currently as part of the national plan ‘Meeting the Challenge, 2009-2013’ [5]. The Program consists of 32 university-based networked programmes, including coastal, oceanic [6] and undersea[7] work, across the entire USA. The Ocean Explorer program manages a research boat and provides a broad range of oceanic data in addition to bioresources exploration. The National Undersea Research Program includes biodiscovery, bioactives, and an active organism repository with over 2000 compounds available for screening based at the University of Mississippi.

The Sea Grant Program had a total budget of $62 million in 2011 and the budget is expected to increase to c. $70M in 2013. Meeting the Challenge mentions cutting-edge and new technologies, but does not mention marine or any other biotechnology specifically. NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research are contributors to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics.

DOE, the Department of Energy, is supporting marine biotechnology and especially the production of bioenergy from algae , through the ARPA-E agency (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy). Over 30 algal-based projects have been supported, at a cost of $85M. In February 2012, the US Government announced a new $14M programme for development of algal biofuels, which is intended to help USA reach its Biomass Program’s goal of >1B US gallons of algal-origin biofuels by 2022. The new programme is aimed at small businesses, in collaboration with academic units and national laboratories and may be extended in 2013 by a further $7M.

Centres of marine biotechnology research



The ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) is one of the most important repositories for living material, especially that associated with patentable inventions. For business in Europe and India it collaborates with LGC (UK).

HBOI maintains almost 50,000 samples of marine invertebrates and isolates of marine microbes within CMBBR’s Marine Drug Discovery Program [8].

HBOI’s Media Labs maintain the website of, which brings together academic and industrial scientists from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi and Oregon

Private funding

Nereus Pharma, Albany Molecular and Estée Lauder are three companies involved in developing or marketing marine-derived products, the first two for health and the third for cosmetics use.

Bio Architecture Lab, based in Berkeley California with subsidiaries in Chile, has collaborations with Statoil, the Norwegian-based international energy company, and Innova-CORFO, the Chilean Economic Development Agency, to develop processes for the production of ethanol, renewable chemicals, fertilizers, proteins and other natural products from seaweed, a renewable and sustainable aquatic-based feedstock [9].

Solazyme, innovators in algal biofuels, are in a partnership with Amyris, another US company producing plant-based biofuels, and Volkswagen of Germany, for a 12 month evaluation of biodiesels in VW’s TDI Clean Diesel engines [10].

The J Craig Venter Research Institute is heavily involved in marine biodiversity mapping, metagenomics and synthetic biology [11]. Sapphire Energy started up its algal biofuels plant in New Mexico in August 2012 [12]. Sapphire invested US$16M and was supported by US$85M in private investment. It raised YS$144 in a Series C round in April 2012, including input from Monsanto Co. With a US$50M US DoE grant and a US$54.5M USDA loan guarantee, as part of development of its Columbus NM site for the ‘algal crude’ project, total funding to April was US$300M.


The re-election of President Obama suggests that the USA will continue to favour investment into microalgal biodiesel and jetfuel.



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).