Marine Biotechnology at Pan-European level

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Covering over 50% of the territory of the European Union, the marine waters under European jurisdiction include four seas and two oceans stretch from the Arctic through the North Sea, Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea. In addition, European jurisdiction also includes the waters surrounding Europe’s ultra-peripheral regions, many of which are located in tropical latitudes with high biodiversity. The European landmass has a coastline of 74,000km which is equivalent to about eight times that of the USA and four times that of Russia. Hence, Europe is a truly maritime continent, with access to an enormous range of marine habitats from coastal lagoons, to inshore waters to shelf seas and the deep ocean.

The coasts, seas and oceans around Europe host a very diverse set of ecosystems and habitats ranging from coastal marshes to lagoons, bays, deepsea, polar and tropical marine environments, tropical and cold coral reefs, deep-sea anoxic sediments and brine lakes, continental margin cold seeps and mudvolcanoes, and coastal and deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These ecosystems, in turn, host an extraordinary biodiversity.

Europe’s seas and coasts are also important for the economy and employment. According to the European Commission , if we count all economic activities that depend on the sea, then the EU's blue economy represents 5.4 million jobs and a gross added value of just under €500 billion per year.

Europe has a long-standing tradition of marine bio-science research as well as a strong biotechnology expertise, and hosts significant research infrastructures relevant for marine biotechnology research and development. This includes one of the largest fleet of research vessels in the world, an extensive network of marine stations, some of which are among the oldest in the world, and world class biotechnology laboratories such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and associated bio-informatics infrastructures.

Overarching regional science strategies, plans and policies

There is no overarching pan-European RTD policy, plan or strategy agreed among EU Countries and Associated Members States at the governmental level or at EC level specifically targeting Marine Biotechnology.

However, a substantial number of strategic documents have been developed over the years as a result of a wide range of science policy initiatives (see below). These culminated into a generally accepted vision and strategy for marine biotechnology research in Europe, published in 2010 by the European Marine Board, shared by at least by 34 Leading European Marine Science Organisations including a large number of national funding agencies (see Marine Board-ESF Position Paper 15 on Marine Biotechnology available from

The EU research policy has responded to the growing interest in marine genetic resources to some extent, notably through support for the Marine Genomics and Marine Biodiversity (MarBEF) FP6 Networks of Excellence and other on-going collaborative projects. Recent efforts to support and coordinate European coastal and marine research infrastructures to improve, for example, access to research vessels, stations and laboratories indicate some level of recognition that action is needed to fully exploit the vast but fragmented research infrastructure available for marine sciences in Europe, including for Marine Biotechnology research.

Research Funding Schemes and Programmes

Marine Biotechnology RTDI at pan-European level is funded through a range of instruments including

  • EU Framework Programmes for Research. In FP7 this was done mainly under THEME 2 on Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology as well as via cross-cutting calls under the “Oceans of Tomorrow” [1]
  • Structural funds [2]
  • ESF EUROCORES[3] which is currently being phased out.
  • COST Actions[4] - A flexible, fast, effective and efficient tool to network and coordinate nationally funded research activities, bringing good scientists together under light strategic guidance. COST is based on networks centered around research projects in fields that are of interest to at least five COST countries.
  • In the future, pan-European collaborations may also receive funding from a potential ERA-NET in Marine Biotechnology Research (as being developed by the CSA MARINEBIOTECH[5]) as well as under the framework of the Joint Programming Initiative on Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans (JPI Oceans[6]).

Research priorities

Marine Board-ESF Position Paper 15 on Marine Biotechnology together with the scoping paper of the EU KBBE-net Coordinated Working Group on Marine Biotechnology (CWG-MB) provide a comprehensive overview of the European research priorities for marine biotechnology research and identify some potential areas of common interest which might benefit from transnational cooperation in Europe.

Marine Board Position Paper 15 on Marine Biotechnology analysed the contributions Marine Biotechnology can make to address key societal challenges and identified the associated future research priorities. These are summarised in below table.

Marine Biotechnology research priorities to address key societal challenges
Target research area for development Research priorities and objectives
Food: Development of food products and ingredients of marine origin (algae, invertebrates, fish) with optimal nutritional properties for human health. - Develop innovative methods based on -omics and systems biology for selective breeding of aquaculture species;

- Develop biotechnological applications and methods to increase sustainability of aquaculture production, including alternative preventive and therapeutic measures to enhance environmental welfare, sustainable production technologies for feed supply, and zero-waste recirculation systems;

- Integration of new, low environmental impact feed ingredients to improve quality of products and human health benefits.

Energy: Development and demonstration of viable renewable energy products and processes, notably through the use of marine algae - Produce an inventory of microalgae resources for biofuel production to support optimisation of the most appropriate strains;

- Improve knowledge of basic biological functions, tools for steering the metabolism and cultivation methods of marine microalgae to improve the photosynthetic efficiency, enhance lipid productivity and obtain microalgae with optimum characteristics for mass cultivation (mixed & mono cultures), biofuel production and biorefinery;

- Develop efficient harvest, separation and purification processes for micro- and macro-algae.

Health: Development of novel drugs, treatments and health and personal care products - Increase the focus on the basic research (taxonomy, systematics, physiology, molecular genetics and (chemical) ecology of marine species and organisms from unusual and extreme environments to increase chances of success in finding novel bioactives;

- Improve the technical aspects of the biodiscovery pipeline, including the separation of bioactives, bio-assays that can accommodate diverse material from marine sources, dereplication strategies and structure determination methods and software;

- Overcome the supply problem to provide a sustainable source of novel pharmaceutical and healthcare products through scientific advances in the fields of aquaculture, microbial and tissue culture, chemical synthesis and biosynthetic engineering.

Environment: Development of biotechnological approaches, mechanisms and applications to address key environmental issues - Develop automated high-resolution biosensing technologies allowing in situ marine environmental monitoring to address coastal water quality, including prediction and detection of HABs and human health hazards;

- Develop cost-effective and non-toxic antifouling technologies combining novel antifouling compounds and surface engineering;

- Consolidate knowledge on DNA-based technologies for organism and population identification and support the development of commercial tools and platforms for routine analysis.

Industrial Products and Processes: Development of marine derived molecules exploitable by industry including enzymes, biopolymers and biomaterials. - Develop enabling technologies for high throughput enzyme screening and for the expression of marine proteins and enzymes through dedicated hosts;

- Produce marine biopolymers as novel competitive commercial products in food, cosmetics and health.

Marine Board Position Paper 15 further identified a number of Research and Development priorities associated with key marine biotechnological toolkits presented in table below.

Marine Biotechnology toolkit research priorities
Target research area for development Research priorities and objectives
Genomics and meta-genomics, molecular biology in life sciences - Implement genomic analyses of marine organisms, including the systematic sampling of different microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, archaea, pico and micro-plankton), algae and invertebrate taxa;

- Implement metagenomic studies of aquatic microbiomes and macrobiomes.

Cultivation of marine organisms - Develop enabling technologies for culture and isolation of uncultivated microorganisms;

- Develop innovative culture methods adapted to vertebrate or invertebrate cell lines for production of active compounds.

Bio-engineering of marine micro-organims - Optimise microalgal cultivation systems with respect to energy supply, productivity and cost;

- Develop innovative photobioreactors adapted to different species of interest and production sites;

- Promote research on the biorefinery approach based on microalgae production to develop a long-term alternative to petrochemistry.

Marine Model Organisms - Identify and prioritise new marine model organisms that are still not investigated in the tree of life and which are needed to fill critical knowledge gaps;

- Investigate identified marine model organism cultivation and perform genomic and chemical analysis.

The EC KBBE-NET Coordinated Working Group on Marine Biotechnology (CWG-MB) made an inventory of ongoing and planned activities and fields of interest in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Turkey, United Kingdom which revealed substantial overlap in some areas and more scattered interests in others. Four specific areas of activity were identified as those most likely to benefit from a co-ordinated approach, giving possibilities for development on a fully-transeuropean scale. These are:

  • Marine bioprospecting/biodiscovery
  • Robust, biotechnology-based state of the art R&D tools and infrastructures tailored for marine biotechnology
  • Molecular aquaculture
  • Biomass production for bioenergy and fine chemicals

Overview of key Marine Biotechnology Science Policy events and documents since 2000

Marine biotechnology is recognised as being central in delivering on the potential of the oceans to contribute to the sustainable delivery of food, energy and biomaterials, as well as to improvements in environmental and human health. Scientists, policy makers and industry representatives have contributed to the development of this vision for marine biotechnology.

Below is an overview of the most important documents and recent events highlighting the relevance of marine biotechnology and providing key recommendations and guidance on how to develop a thriving European marine biotechnology sector[7].

  • 2011-2013 – CSA MARINEBIOTECH FP7 Coordination and Support action aiming to prepare the foundation for an ERA-NET in the area of marine biotechnology.[8]
  • 2012 –Communication from the European Commission on Blue Growth, opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth. The Communication identified Marine Biotechnology as one of five areas where additional effort at EU level could stimulate long-term growth and jobs in the blue economy, in line with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.[9]
  • 2010 - Marine Board-ESF Position Paper 15: Marine Biotechnology: a New Vision and Strategy for Europe[10]. This paper calls for the development of a European marine biotechnology strategy. In doing so, it highlights the potential of marine biotechnology to impact Europe’s economy and stresses the importance of including marine biotechnology topics in future Framework Programmes.
  • 2009 - EU KBBE-net Coordinated Working Group on Marine Biotechnology (CWG-MB)[11]. In this marine biotechnology scoping paper, EU member states identified marine research priorities to contribute to the structure of EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.
  • 2008 - “Blue Book” from the EC-US Task Force on Biotechnology Research - Workshop - Principality of Monaco, 2008 [12]. Microbes play an important role in the marine and indeed global ecosystem. The importance of developing marine genomics expertise, including the need for research to strengthen Europe’s bioinformatics research capability was the focus of this Task Force meeting.
  • 2007 - “The Bremen meeting” of European marine biotechnology experts, hosted by the German EU presidency[13]. Led by the European Commission and attended by representatives from industry and Europe’s marine biotechnology research community, this meeting highlighted the importance of the EU Framework Programme in supporting marine biotechnology research and called for the development of a European marine biotechnology research strategy.
  • 2006 - EC background paper no. 10 on Marine Biotechnology [14]. This paper recognised the commercial potential of marine biotechnology research in the development of different industry sectors, such as agriculture, health, food products, process engineering, environment and energy. It identified a range of commercial applications that marine biotechnology would support, including: biodiscovery; improving the production of marine organisms; novel products - both food and feedstock; and uses in diagnostics and biosensor applications.
  • 2005 – The CIRCA Report on Marine Biotechnology [15]. An Irish funded study providing an overview of marine biotechnology and makes recommendations about how Ireland could develop capabilities in marine biotechnology.
  • 2002 - US National Academy of Sciences published a report entitled Marine Biotechnology in the Twenty-first Century: Problems, Promise, and Products.
  • 2001 - ESF Marine Board Position Paper 4: A European Strategy for Marine Biotechnology[10]

Other (indirectly) relevant strategic documents which are relevant to Marine Biotechnology are:

  • Europe 2020 - Europe’s economic growth strategy aiming at smart, inclusive and sustainable growth[16]
  • Bio-economy 2020 - The European Commission adopted a strategy to shift the European economy towards greater and more sustainable use of renewable resources. The Commission's strategy and action plan, "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe", outlines a coherent, cross-sectoral and inter-disciplinary approach to the issue[17].
  • Innovation Union [18].
  • Blue growth communication (2012) - EC Communication which launches a process to stimulate the blue economy. Marine Biotechnology is one of five focal areas[19].
  • European Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research from the European Commission (2008) - The strategy among others highlights the need for marine biodiversity and biotechnology research and recognises their potential to contribute new knowledge for high value added products and processes[20].

Major infrastructures coordination and support initiatives

  • EC Expert Group on Marine Research Infrastructures (MRI) - The MRI Experts group was set up by the European Commission to identify key MRI needs and gaps and to improve governance at EU level. A Final Report is available from the website.[21]
  • European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC) brings together 12 leading marine stations and EMBL to provide access to marine organisms (microbes, plants, animals) and newest techniques to the scientific community at large, including universities and industry. Medicines, blue energies (fuel made from algae) and many other end-products will be produced from the sea in the future, and EMBRC wishes to facilitate these discoveries.[22]
  • Eurofleets (Towards an alliance of European Research fleets) is an FP7 Research Infrastructures Project aiming at bringing together the European research fleets to enhance their coordination and promote the cost effective use of their facilities.[23]
  • Association of European Marine biological Laboratories (ASSEMBLE) is an FP7 Research Infrastructure Initiative comprising a network of marine research stations which aims to provide transnational access to a coastal marine ecosystems, research vessels, state-of-the-art experimental facilities and to a wide variety of marine organisms; either as research visits or by shipment. It also performs networking activities to enhance interoperability both within and outside of the ASSEMBLE network. This includes organizing workshops as well as establishing a virtual tool-box and a common database for marine organisms. Joint research is conducted to improve the provision of marine biological and/or ecological models with an emphasis on models for marine genomics.[24]

Major science policy and coordination initiatives

  • 2011-2013 – CSA MARINEBIOTECH FP7 Coordination and Support action aiming to prepare the foundation for an ERA-NET in the area of marine biotechnology [25]
  • The Knowledge Based Bio-Economy Network (KBBE-NET) is a high-level expert group launched in 2006, with members from all EU Member States and Associated Countries to the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The main role of the KBBE-NET is to support the European Commission and EU Member States to achieve a coordinated approach for the development and implementation of a European research policy related to the Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE). It acts in coordination with the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR). [26]
  • MarBef+ (completed in 2009) was an FP6 Network of Excellence (NoE) focused on marine biodiversity research funded by the European Union and consisting of 94 European marine institutes. The platform aimed to integrate and disseminate knowledge and expertise on marine biodiversity, with links to researchers, industry, stakeholders and the general public.[27]
  • Marine Genomics Europe (MGE) was an FP6 Network of Excellence (NoE) composed of 44 institutions from 16 countries (within and outside Europe) focussing on research using genomic to study marine organisms. The overarching aim of Marine Genomics Europe was to promote, develop and spread throughout the European Union a broad range of genomic approaches, to investigate a wide range of questions related to the functioning of marine ecysystems and to the biology of marine organisms.[28]
  • Marine Genomics for Users (MG4U) is an FP7 coordination action which aims to facilitate knowledge transfer, technology transfer, and technology translation between high-throughput marine genomics, industry and society. Marine genomics has enormous potential to improve our lifestyles and prosperity, and to assist with governance and sustainable management of the marine environment. However, many end users of marine genomics knowledge are not yet aware of how marine genomics hold great potential for problem solving and industrial commercial advantage. Valuable knowledge needs to be made accessible and disseminated in user friendly contexts. MG4U aims to spread results from recent and on-going projects in marine genomics and facilitate rapid, efficient knowledge transfer to generate interdisciplinary research capacity in Europe.[29]
  • EuroMarine is a FP7 coordination and support action designed to bring together the three FP6 marine Networks of Excellence (NoE) communities; EUR-OCEANS, MarBEF and Marine Genomics Europe. In doing so, EuroMarine will provide a rich and diverse source of the best expertise and innovation available in European Marine Research, that can respond rapidly to societal needs, environmental demands, well-being and sustainability.[30]
  • Joint Programming Initiatives:
  • Joint Programming Initiative Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans (JPI-OCEANS) is a coordinating and integrating platform of EU Member States and Associated Countries who invest in marine and maritime research. JPI Oceans will focus on making better and more efficient use of national research budgets, which represent 85% of the marine-maritime funding within Europe. One of the JPI’s goals is to develop joint research programs in which countries can be involved on a voluntarily basis (variable geometry). Participating countries will also decide what contribution to make: this may include institutional, project-related or new funds. Among different cross-cutting topics identified by the JPI Oceans, particular attention will be paid to further advance in the development of marine biotechnologies for the discovery of new products, including new drugs and antibiotics derived from marine organisms. Therefore, it is expected that the JPI Oceans will have a main role on the development of new medical products to combat antimicrobial resistance. In this sense strong synergies will be generated between the JPI Oceans and the JPI The microbial challenges.[6]
  • Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE)[31]
  • Joint Programming Initiative on A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (HDHL)[32]
  • Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)[33]
  • European Research Area Networks (ERA-NETs). There are a number of ERA-NETs which have relevance for Marine Biotechnology research and development. These include:
  • SEAS-ERA (2010-2014) is a partnership of the leading Marine RTD Funding Organizations in 18 countries aiming at coordinating national and regional marine RTD activities. While not the sole focus of the SEAS-ERA Project, marine biotechnology has a role within their activities and identified as one of the high potential research areas of strategic importance for several of the European sea basins.[34]
  • ERA-IB2 is an ERA-NET in industrial biotechnology (IB) involving 19 partners, which builds on the success of the FP6 project ERA-IB and develops the network further into a pan-European approach to IB R&D funding. ERA IB2 defines industrial biotechnology much in the same way as the CSA MarineBiotech defines marine biotechnology, as the toolbox of biotechnology used to solve industrial issues. The definition of ERA-IB2 does not exclude these industrial issues to be marine related, and as such, may include support to marine biotechnology research. However, the industrial area covered by ERA-IB2 is vast, and so far issues related to marine biotechnology have not been in focus for the calls that have been issued.[35]
  • EurotransBio is an international funding initiative supported by European program owners. It has established itself as the preferred funding instrument for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), collaborating in the area of modern biotechnology.[36]
  • BIODIVERSA is a network of national funding organisations promoting pan-European research that offers innovative opportunities for the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity [37]
  • ERASynBio - ERA-NET on Synthetic Biology[38]project
  • SUSFOOD - ERA-NET on Sustainable Food Production[39]
  • SAFEFOOD ERA – European Excllence in food safety research programming[40]
  • ANIHWA – ERA-NET on Animal Health and Welfare[41]
  • ERA ARD II – ERA-NET on Agricultural Research for Development[42]
  • ERASysBio - ERA-NET Plus on Systems Biology[43]
  • ERA-NanoSci ERA-NET on Nanosciences
  • ERA-NET PLATFORM is not an ERA-NET itself but, as the name suggests, a platform set up by ERA-IB-2 with and for ERA-Nets related to Industrial Biotechnology and innovative technologies, as well as the European Commission/DG Research and Innovation and the ETP SusChem/IB. The platform has the following objectives: (i) Exchange of information and experiences; (ii) Alignment of relevant activities; and (iii) Strengthen the collaboration between initiatives.[45]
  • European Technology Platforms (ETPs) are industry-led stakeholder fora charged with defining research priorities in a broad range of technological areas. They are characterised by addressing challenging issues for growth, embodying major technological advances in the medium to long term, creating community added-value, involving high research intensity and requiring an European approach. They are driven by industry, compared with ERA-Nets, which are driven by research funding agencies. In the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) sector, five ETPs of the total 9 are directly or indirectly relevant for marine biotechnology and utilisation of marine bioresources:
  • Sustainable Chemistry Technology Platform (SusChem TP) for industrial biotechnology
  • European Biofuels Technology Platform (Biofuels TP) has an Algae fuels task force
  • European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATIP)
  • European Technology Platform ‘Food for Life’ (Food for Life TP)
  • European Technology Platform ‘Plants for the Future’ (Plant TP) – many aspects applicable to marine algae
  • An ETP that grouped the biological platforms together, the Bio-Economy Technology Platforms (BECOTEPS), has produced a final paper The European Bioeconomy in 2030, which is also relevant.

Major Research initiatives

For more information about these iniciatives, please follow this link [1] to the MARINEBIOTECH database.



  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. Largely based on information overview available from the website of the Irish Marine Institute at
  10. 10.0 10.1


This draft 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 the European Marine Board as part of the CSA MarineBiotech Project activities (2011-2013).