Marine Biotechnology in Australia

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National strategy for biotechnology

Australia’s first National Biotechnology Strategy spanned 2000-2008 [1]. Following on from this, “Powering Ideas - An innovation agenda for the 21st century” [2] was published by the Australian government in 2009 and included biotechnology as one of four key technologies, noting that Australia was one of only 6 countries deemed capable of benefiting from sixteen future applications arising from biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials science and information technology. The other five were Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea and the USA . The Government then published the National Enabling Technologies Strategy in 2012, within a Super Science – Future Industries initiative and with a budget of A$38.2 over 4 years [3]. “Cutting-edge” biotechnology is part of this.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

The National Biotechnology Strategy included enhancement of access to marine bioresources as one of its goals and marine science is specifically mentioned in “Powering Ideas”. Marine biotechnology per se is not mentioned in either of these documents.

Individual states within Australia have responsibility for their coastal waters to 3 nautical miles off-shore, and then the Federal Government takes responsibility for waters to the limit of the Economic Exclusion Zone. Several states include marine biotechnology in their development strategies, including Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Life Sciences Queensland notes that marine biotechnology is part of the state’s plans for sustainable economic and social growth [4]. The Western Australian Marine Science Institute [5] in its Node 5 activities led the development of WA’s marine biotechnology strategy. An Aquaculture, Biotechnology and Biodiscovery Science group is part of Marine Innovation South Australia [6]. “BioVision Tasmania 2007-2015” [7] identifies 3 niche strengths for the State of Tasmania – agriculture, forestry and environmental biotechnology; aquaculture, marine, Antarctic and Southern Ocean biotechnology; and population genetics for human health biotechnology. In Blue Biotech, Tasmania is focusing on marine extracts and Antarctic and Southern Ocean bioactives. About 10% of the state’s biotechnology industry employees work in marine-related companies. The Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute is the applied research organisation for marine bioresource management.


The Super Science Initiative that was announced in May 2009 will contribute A$1.1 billion to priority areas of Australian research until 2013 [8]. “Future Industries”, one of the three categories qualifying for support, includes marine biology. Biotechnology as an overall topic will benefit from A$500M over this period and Marine and Climate topics have been allocated over A$385M, including tropical marine infrastructure support at AIMS (the Australian Institute of Marine Science).

Photobioreactor-based recombinant microalgal protein and biofuels work at SARDI (the South Australian Research and Development Agency) is being funded by NCRIS, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy programme [9].

Centres of marine biotechnology research

AIMS, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, was set up by the Australian Government in 1972 and describes itself as a ‘tropical marine research agency’ [10]. It receives over A$31 million in public funding and its main research areas are marine biotechnology, biodiversity assessment, climate change and water quality. AIMS’s marine biotechnology focuses on discovery of marine natural products for pharmaceuticals, industrial and environmental applications, providing applied research for sustainable supply of fine chemicals by aquaculture, fermentation, or gene expression. Marine microbiology and ecotoxicology are strengths. CMMG (the Centre for Marine Microbiology and Genetics Research [11]) sits within AIMS and is a microbiological and genetic research laboratory with experimental aquaria that have level 2 containment and quarantine certification. One of CMMG’s functions is to generate commercial supplies of lead compounds for biotechnological applications. AIMS has an agreement with the UK company Aquapharm to supply Australian marine microorganisms for screening for commercialisable bioactive molecules.

WAMSI, the Western Australian Marine Sciences Institution, has two main programmes, to establish a biodiversity management strategy for Western Australia, and to establish a state bioresources library with extracts made available for research and commercial investigation. WAMSI is organised in 6 nodes, of which Node 5 [12] is active in marine biodiscovery, biotechnology and aquaculture. WAMSI reports that 93 compounds have been isolated from indigenous organisms, including sponges, sea squirts and cyanobacteria.

Flinders University’s Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development was established 2007 and works on bioprospecting, bioactives and algal biofuels [13]); James Cook University’s School of Tropical and Marine Biology carries out research work into ecology, microbial diversity, coral reef biology, algal physiology and biofuels potential and other areas relevant for marine biotechnology [14]; The CMB (the University of New South Wales Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation [15]) carries out research into biofouling and bioremediation, using ecological and microbial genomics, chemical ecology and microbial consortia.

SARDI (the South Australian Research and Development Agency [16]) supports groups working on algal production systems, recently finding a new strain of Nannochloropsis with a high lipid and protein content for biofuels and biorefinery use, and aquaculture genetics and biotechnology.


A range of CRCs (Cooperative Research Centres [17]) was established in 1991 by the Australian Government, to facilitate innovation and knowledge transfer in different industry sectors. Of the 44 in existence in 2011-2012, the Australian Seafood CRC [18], established in 2007 with a grant of A$35.5M over 7 years, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems (ACE [19]) CRC, established in 1991 and renewed most recently in 2010 with a grant of A$18.7M over 4.5 years, and the Environmental Biotechnology CRC [20], established in 2010 with a grant of A$4M over 2 years, are active in relevant areas for marine biotechnology, including seafood genetics, Antarctic microbiology and bioremediation. The ACE CRC includes the Alfred Wegener Institute Germany as a core partner and collaborates with Belgium, Canada, China, France, Japan, New Zealand, UK and the USA. Other CRCs have a similarly wide range of international collaborations.

CSIRO manages the Australian National Algae Culture Collection [21]. Griffith University maintains the Queensland Compound Library at the Eskitis Institute, where the Natural Product Discovery Unit was established in 1993 [22]. The NQAIF, the North Queensland Algal Identification/Culturing Facility, houses a tropical algal culture collection [23]. The Western Australia Museum houses the Western Australia Marine Bioresources Library, jointly established in 2009 by the WA Museum, WA Government, AIMS and the Western Australian Marine Sciences Institution.

Flinders University’s CMBD has initiated an Australia-New Zealand Marine Biotechnology Network, with University of Waikato New Zealand and others [24].

Public investment

Funds are available for academic research through the ARC (Australian Research Council [25]) and for industry collaborations through AusIndustry grants [26].

WAMSI was established by co-funding of A$81M over 5 years, $21M from the Western Australia State Government via the Departments of Environment and Conservation, Fisheries and Industry and Resources, and $60M from a consortium including the Federal Government, AIMS, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, the National Research Flagship ‘Wealth from Oceans’, the Chemistry Centre, Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, the University of WA, the WA Global Ocean Observing System, the WA Museum, the petroleum company Woodside, and the mining company BHP Billiton.

Private investment

Between 1993 and 2007, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca provided over A$100M to Griffith University, of which A$45M went into building the Natural Product Discovery Unit and the remainder into projects, screening and culture collections. In 2008, Griffith University’s discovery partnership was re-established with Pfizer Inc, looking at new molecules for malaria and trypanosomiasis.

Marine Biotechnology Australia Pty Ltd is developing a potential treatment for herpes infections in humans derived from abalone haemolymph, supported by almost A$330,000 from AusIndustry; this has recently entered clinical trials, with funding from ARC. The company itself is investing over A$4.5M in the development. The enzyme company Cassa Bio-Tec has received over A$175,000 as a feasibility grant from a local council to remove beached seaweed and turn it into liquid fertiliser via enzymatic digestion.

Marinova Pty Ltd develops medical, cosmetic and nutraceutical uses of fucoidans from seaweed, including anti-viral and anti-cancer applications [27]. AlgaeTec, based in the USA and Western Australia, has strategic partnerships with the Manildra Group, Lufthansa, Holcim Lanka Ltd and the Shandong Kerui Group Holding Ltd for development of algal biofuels and process systems [28].


The trend is towards government investment in research translation into industry. The Industrial Transformation Research Program was established in 2011, with A$236M funding to help transfer innovation into industry, specifically focusing on strategic technologies with future economic impact, including engineering, materials science and nanotechnology, communications, chemical engineering and biotechnology [29]. Up to 20 Industrial Transformation Research Hubs will be funded, initially for up to five years, allowing shorter- and longer-term projects with industry and economy focus. The ARC will put A$1M per year into each ITRH, to be matched by the industry partners. In addition, up to 50 Industrial Transformation Training Centres will be nominated over the next 5 years, giving up to 600 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to work with industry partners on research for specific industry needs. Each ITTC will receive up to $1 million per year for up to three years.




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).