Marine Biotechnology in United Kingdom

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Overarching science strategies, plans and policies

There is currently no national strategy for marine biotechnology. Marine Biotechnology fits into wider science and technology policy and supported via overarching marine and bioscience strategies:

  • UK Science and Technology Policy for the period 2004–2014 is described in Science and Innovation Investment Framework (2004–2014) [1]
  • The marine research component of this Policy/Strategy is further developed in UK Marine Science Strategy (2010-2025) led by the UK Marine Science Co-ordination Committee: [2]
  • A five year strategy for the biosciences was launched in 2010: The Age of Bioscience: BBSRC's Strategic Plan 2010-2015[3]

Research funding schemes and programmes

There are no dedicated funding schemes or programmes on marine biotechnology in the UK at this time. Nevertheless, marine biotechnology is included in several focus areas of the numerous UK funding agencies.

At the research end of the innovation chain, there are 7 research councils working together as Research Councils UK (RCUK). These include the Science and Technology Facilities Council or STFC. These Research Councils have a strong role to play in different aspects of marine biotechnology research. Four of the UK Research Councils are particularly relevant to marine biotechnology:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)[4] ;
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)[5] ;
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)[6]
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)[7]

NERC is the main UK agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. As such NERC is the lead UK research council for marine environmental biosciences (e.g. ecology, diversity, etc.) and marine bioenergy.

The BBSRC is the lead council for biotechnology as it covers all aspects of non-medical life sciences with three strategic themes; Food Security including aquaculture; Basic Science underpinning Health including nutrition, ageing, immune systems, tissue engineering, regenerative sciences etc; Industrial Biotechnology including bioenergy. The BBSRC budget is about € 500M pa, with € 0,5-1M pa being spent on marine biotechnology. Other relevant organisations include:

  • The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is the UK’s technology innovation agency in the UK. Areas relevant to marine biotechnology include Energy, Food, Healthcare, Biosciences, Industrial biotechnology and High-Value Manufacturing. The TSB´s budget is about € 366M pa, with about € 0,2-0,5 M being spent on marine biotechnology.[8]
  • The Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)’s main role is to accelerate the rate of bioscience technology exchange into and within the UK by (i) promoting rapid knowledge flow; (ii) providing networking opportunities; (iii) helping build relationships; (iv) focussing resources; (iv) building innovation capacity; and (v) assisting industry to deliver new technology-enabled products and processes. The KTN offers a funding scheme called SPARK awards, which is intended to initiate new business and academic collaborations by providing the academic with £5000 to conduct research of value to the business. Marine biotechnology (non-medical) related projects are within scope of this competition. TSB supports the Industrial Biotechnology Special Interest Group [9] which is co-managed by Biosciences KTN. NERC and TSB support the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group which is managed by Biosciences KTN.[10]
  • The Carbon Trust is an organisation supporting the move from an oil economy towards a sustainable, low carbon economy. From 2008 onwards it has supported projects in algal bioenergy and hence is relevant in terms of these aspects of marine biotechnology. Due to re-prioritisation, it is unlikely that the Algae Bioenergy Challenge will be subject of much focus of the Carbon Trust in the future.
  • The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has a role in translating the outcomes of marine bioresource use for carbon capture and energy generation into its own criteria and has sub-contracted responsibility in scoping algal potential, for example, to the National Non-Food Crop Centre (NNFCC).[11]

Research priorities for marine biotechnology research


Strategic documents

  • A report to government was submitted in May 2009 by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team setting out its vision for IB by 2025. The report included 21 recommendations on how the UK can be strongly positioned to gain maximum benefits from the new strategic market of renewable chemicals, and low carbon manufacturing. Marine biotechnology, and particularly, marine-derived resources, were viewed in this report, as having a critical role to play in driving a bio-based economy. The subsequent government response to this report published in June 2009 accepted all the recommendations. One of the recommendations accepted by government was the formation of an Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, with company engagement and knowledge exchange firmly embedded in the Forum’s activities. Biosciences KTN is part of the IBLF delivery team whose activities include engaging with marine biotechnology companies in the UK.
  • The May 2009 report can be found here [12]
  • The June 2009 government response report can be found here[13]
  • The UK Marine Policy Statement was published in March 2011 and applies to all UK waters. It is the framework for preparing Marine Plans, ensuring consistency across the UK, and provides direction for new marine licensing and other authorisation systems in each UK Administration. It will set out the general environmental, social and economic considerations that need to be taken into account in marine planning. The statement can be found at[14]
  • The first UK National Ecosystem Assessment was published in June 2011. It is the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity. The assessment provides values for a range of services we gain from nature to help us to fully understand the worth of the natural environment and how the benefits to individuals and society as a whole can be better protected and preserved for future generations. The report includes two specific chapters relevant to the marine environment and is available at[15]

Infrastructures and coordination and support capacities / initiatives

  • In 2012, UK operates 19 local/coastal vessels from 10,5m to 32,1m; 3 regional vessels from 48,6m to 52,5m; 2 oceanic of 56,55m and 63,9m (HMS Roebuck, Colonel Templer); and 15 global vessels from 68,6m to 131,1m registered at the European Research Vessels Infobase [16].
  • In 2012, UK maintains about 17 large marine research equipments registered in the European large Exchangeable instruments database [16].
  • Key aquaculture experimental and research facilities in UK include
  • Specialised laboratories at Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)[17]
  • Rearing facilities from the Fisheries Research Services (now Marine Scotland after merger with the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and the Scottish Government Marine Directorate) [18]
  • Marine hatchery from NAFC Marine Centre with both land based and sea based facilities[19]
  • Specialised laboratories at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)[20]
  • Specialised laboratories and Institute of Aquaculture External facilities at the University of Stirling [21]
  • Key marine biotechnology experimental and research facilities in UK include
  • Specialised laboratories at the SAMS, Marine Biological Association, Plymouth University, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Heriot-Watt University, Glasgow University, Bangor University, Southampton University, University of Stirling, Swansea University and the University of Aberdeen
  • There are also important culture collections, in particular the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP [22], Culture Collection of the Marine Biological Association and NCIMB (Aberdeen).
  • There are around 25 companies in the UK whose sole activity is Marine Biotechnology R&D and include Aquapharm, Glycomar, Algenuity, Algaecytes, Marine Biopolymers and the Hebridean Seaweed Company to name a few.

Major initiatives

  • IB SIG, the Industrial Biotechnology Special Interest Group, is supported by TSB and managed by Biosciences KTN and Chemistry Innovation KTN [23]
  • AB SIG, the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group, is supported by TSB and NERC and managed by the Biosciences KTN [24]
  • The Algal Knowledge Transfer Centre, Swansea University [25]
  • The European Center for Marine Biotechnology aims to be the business incubator of choice for new and emerging marine biotechnology companies in the UK. By establishing a growing cluster of activity and international networks it strives to be the premier site for innovative growth and development within this emerging sector.[26]


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This country profile is based on available online information sources and contributions from various country experts and stakeholders. It does not 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 CSA MarineBiotech Project (2011-2013) and updated by the Marine Biotechnology ERA-NET (2013-2017).