Marine Biotechnology in Korea

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National strategy for biotechnology

South Korea’s first biotechnology development plan “Biotech 2000” was launched end-1993 with a budget of Won 15.5 trillion (US$18B), with responsibilities shared across 7 government departments including Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. In 2006, “Bio-Vision 2016” was launched. The main aim was to accelerate South Korea’s economic development using biosciences and biotechnology so that it could join the ranks of the G-7 nations by 2010. Biotech 2000 identified 10 strategic project themes including New Functional Biomaterials, Biodiversity and Environmental Protection and Bioenergy Production. In 2011 the National Science and Technology Commission was reformed, with a stronger role in funding, driving and evaluating Korea’s research and innovation agenda .

In 1996, an Ocean Development Plan was established, with a budget of US$33B for the following 10 years, including the establishment of a maritime management system, the exploration of resources at sea and the development of deep seabed mineral resources and energy; as well as international cooperation projects. This was replaced by Ocean Korea 21 for 2001-2010 and the Second Ocean Korea 21 for 2011-2020, which are intended to form a coherent and continuous plan for all marine, coastal and Economic Exclusion Zone activities. The 2nd OK21 excludes fisheries because of the disappearance of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries into MLTM (the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime – created by the merger of MOMAF with the Ministry of Construction and Transportation). However, it does include marine bio-systems preservation and marine science & technology as elements, with macroalgal research and marine biodiscovery as part of these [1].

National strategy for marine biotechnology

Blue-Bio 2016 is a specific strategic plan for marine biotechnology. The Marine Biotech Supporting Centre under the Korean Institute of Marine Science and Technology works with the MLTM to manage the plan. There is an intention to establish a Marine Bio-resources Research Institute in 2013, with $145M investment. This will include Marine Bio-resources stock centres (culture collections), international collaborations for tropical, South Pole and North Pole explorations and construction of special research vessels. A Master Plan for Marine Biotechnology is being developed, building on the Biotechnology Promotion Act of 1983, Biotech 2000, Bio-Vision 2016 and Blue-Bio 2016. A Marine Bioresources Management Law was introduced in 2012.

MOMAF (Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) has produced several documents concerning national marine strategy, including the Marine Development Basic Plan (1996) and Ocean Korea 21 (2000), in which marine research played a part. Marine biotechnology is an explicit part of the Biotechnology Fostering Policy, within Marine Biology and Fisheries, and is now a joint responsibility of MLTM and MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry).


Within the biotechnology development plans, several National R&D programmes and plans have been established, including the 21st Century R&D Program, the National Critical R&D Program, the Creative Research Initiative, the National Research Laboratory Program, the Basic Bioscience Program, the International Joint R&D Project and the Nanotechnology Development Plan [2]. These form an umbrella to which marine biotechnology can contribute.

More specifically, in 2000, MOMAF produced planning and research reports concerning the future of marine BT and established the Marine Bio 21 Project in 2004, which established and supports a number of marine biotech-focused research centres in Korea, with a budget of 250B won (c. €175M in 2005) over 10 years. The fisheries and aquaculture main themes are the use of biotechnology for the restoration of fisheries resources, advanced aquaculture, the use of marine biota and gene resources (including novel bioactives and biomaterials), and exploitation into future major industries. The R&D budget for marine biotechnology projects was 3.4 billion won in 2001, 6.4 billion won in 2004, and 8.3 billion won (c. €6M) in 2005. The budget for 2007 was over 10 billion won (€10M).

Since then, two programmes in genomics have been established: Molecular Genomics of Marine & Extreme Organisms (MLTM) and Genome Research and Utilization of Marine Organisms (MAF) as part of the marine biotechnology development strategy.

In 2011, the Next Generation Bio-green 21 Project was announced, managed by the Rural Development Agency, with a budget of US$12B [3]. Crop biotechnology is a major focus of the 7 national programmes within this, and the Program is supporting work on fermentation of red seaweeds for biofuels.

The National S&T Plan 2008-2012 has “Core Technologies for New Industry: Marine Organism Conservation and MBt” as one of its 7 investment areas.

Centres of marine biotechnology research

The Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute KORDI was renamed the Korean Institute of Ocean Science and Technology KIOST in mid-July 2012. The National Research Laboratory of Marine Microbial Diversity is at KIOST. The Marine Biotechnology Research Centre MBRC at KIOST is involved in exploration, sampling and biotechnology development of marine microbes, seaweeds and marine animals from a vast range of waters, including the Arctic, the Antarctic, tropical regions and deep-sea, as well as coastal area around the Korean peninsula [4]. Omics technologies are used to characterize populations and identify novel molecules, including enzymes such as epoxide hydrolases, agents to control biofilms, biomarkers for environmental stress and antimicrobial peptides. KIOST has wide international collaborations.

KOPRI (the Korea Polar Research Institute) works on relevant ecology and biology of Arctic and Antarctic land, ice and water [5].

Various Universities in Korea are involved in marine biotechnology and supporting activities, including:

The Division of Marine Environment & Bioscience, Korea Maritime University offering a Major in Marine Biotechnology, with training adapted to the needs of a number of industries that can benefit from marine biotechnology, including foods, aquaculture, feeds and natural products [6];

The College of Ocean Science and Technology, University of Kunsan, active in a wide range of mariculture, fisheries and aquaculture science, with a department of Marine Biotechnology with interests in applying this to mariculture [7];

Pukyong National University, hosting the Marine Bioprocess Research Center [8], the Marine Biochemistry Laboratory, the Ocean Life Science Research Center, the Maritime Transformation Research Center, and a Marine Disease Control and Prevention Center. The MBRC was established as a Marine Bio 21 centre. There is extensive research into novel bioactives and materials from marine species, developing the necessary bioprocesses for large-scale production, and managing sample collections. The most recent grant to the MBRC was 6B Won;

Seoul National University’s CMDD (Center for Marine Natural Products and Drug Discovery [9]) in the College of Natural Sciences, which is a Marine Bio 21 centre. New bioactives are isolated, characterized and screened for activity in metabolic diseases, immune diseases and infectious diseases, using target-based high throughput screening;

The Marine-bio center of Silla University in Busan, which houses companies active in developing and marketing marine-origin products, such as amBio.

Organisations working on marine biofuels include KITECH (the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology [10]) and KIOST. The INHA Industry Partnership Institute has developed methods for making biofuels from [macro]algae. Kangwon National University has developed a method of using freshwater cyanobacterial species to produce fuel ethanol. Sungkyunkwan University is working on metabolically-engineered yeasts for fermentation of red seaweeds for biofuels, with the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Seoul National University, supported by the BioGreen 21 Program. Sungkyunkwan University also holds patents on genetically-modified microalgae.

A number of National Universities have departments of marine (or ocean) biotechnology, including Chonnam, Gyeongsang, Jeju (Cheju), Kangnung, Soonchunhyang and Sunmoon.


The National Research Laboratory (NRL) programme was launched in 1999 to identify needs for research centres of excellence and support them in improving technological competitiveness. MEST provides approximately $250,000 a year for five years to each NRL project, of which there are now over 440, mainly in universities and research institutes but including 52 in industry. Relevant NRLs include the Marine Molecular and Environment Biosciences Laboratory at Hanyang University [11]) and the NRL for Marine Microbial Diversity at KIOST.

NIBR (the National Institute of Biological Resources [12] was established in 2007, to house and expand national biodiversity collections (target 2.5 million samples by 2020) and make these available to bioindustry, as well as educate, and use molecular genomics for taxonomy. NIBR hosts the National Biological Resources Database.

MBRC at KIOST hosts the Marine & Extreme Bioresources Collections [13].

KOBIS (the Korean Ocean Biogeographic Information System [14]) is a member of the international OBIS system and provides marine biodiversity information to the main databases.

Private investment

With the strong support shown by the Korean government to biotechnology, the overall market for biotechnology-derived products, mainly human health and ‘bio-foods’, was estimated at US$6.5B in 2010 . A number of companies make more specific use of marine-origin materials, including Kittolife, with products based on high-purity, high-quality chito-oligosaccharides; and amBio, which is investigating marine organisms and algae as probiotics and food or feed ingredients [15]. The US Company Unigen has a Korean subsidiary that uses extracts from marine organisms as ingredients in pharmaceuticals, functional foods, dietary supplements, cosmeceuticals, and animal health products [16].

Companies working on algae for carbon capture or energy production include SK Energy, which began investment in marine biofuels in 2008, Ecophyco Tech, Pegasus International.

SAIT (the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology) is involved in one relevant research project, developing the use of red seaweeds as biofuels, with Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul National University and the University of Illinois USA. SAIT operates a Global Research Outreach Program and issues calls for novel ideas in 15 areas including Energy, awarding US$50,000-$100,000 per project [17].



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).