Marine Biotechnology in China

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National strategy for biotechnology

Biotechnology was included for the first time in the Seventh Five Year Plan of 1986-1990 and was enabled through the Ministry of Science and Technology’s National Biotechnology Policy Outline. Biotechnology, including marine biotechnology, is one of China’s strategic industrial sectors and is expected to benefit from government subsidies, positive tax treatment and preferential policies over the next decade, as part of the Twelfth Five Year Plan launched in 2010. As part of this, RMB 12B will be spent on new drug discovery and research. The new National Hi-Tech R&D Programme (the ‘863 Program’) announced in March 2012, includes biotechnology and marine technology, albeit as separate topics. Within the Five Year and R&D plans, certain activities are identified as national key projects; marine biotechnology is making a contribution to some of these in the biomedical and environmental areas.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

There does not seem to be a national Marine Biotechnology strategy as such. However, marine biotechnology was first mentioned as a specific topic in the 863 Program in 1996 and has received significant and increasing support from the Eighth Five Year Plan onwards.

The CAS’s Roadmap of Development in Chinese Marine Science & Technology to 2050 refers to the potential for marine bioresources to contribute strategically to energy-efficiency, emission-reduction, and development of fisheries, bio-based chemicals, marine microorganisms and marine microbial genetic resources, and links marine biotechnology with economic and social development. One of China’s national strategic goals is “To Exploit the Sea Using Science and Technology”, which includes MBt.


Three National Programmes within the National Science and Technology Programme integrate research – the National Basic Research Programme (the ‘973 Program’), the National Key Technologies R&D Programme and the 863 Program. In 2006, about 30% of the 973 programme was for agricultural biotechnology and about 20% of the 863 programme was for biotechnology in general. The NSFC (National Nature Science Foundation of China) funds capacity-building and basic research abilities. MOST also provides the Innovation Fund for Technology-based firms IFT, which had a budget of US$21M in 2006.

Shanghai, Qingdao, Xiamen and Guangzhou are the four main regions for marine biodiscovery and bioactives development and commercial activity based on this. For example, in 2010, Qingdao’s economic output in ocean science and technology, pharmaceuticals, environment protection, biological products and other products related to marine bioresources had grown from 85 B yuan in 2009 to 140 billion yuan, and even more investment in ocean R&D is planned.

At least 10 Chinese institutes specialise in marine biopharmaceuticals, notably the Ocean University of China, the First Institute of Oceanography, SOA, the Institute of Oceanology and the institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. There are also some key laboratories at universities that conduct research and provide training in aspects of marine biotechnology. The Government has a cooperation programme with the EU that includes marine biotechnology – the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Group at Dalian, for example, has been involved in two FP5 EC consortia, SILIBIOTEC and UVTOX.

Since 1997, the government has funded research and investigation to link modern analytical and structural chemistry with the marine bioresources aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. Lux Research reports that, as a result of this, by 2010, the incremental output of the marine biopharmaceutical industry was CNY 9.5 billion (c. $1.5 billion), with annual growth of about 30% expected, according to the 12th Five-Year Plan .

Centres of marine biotechnology research

The National Research Center for Geoanalysis is a partner in the EU-funded project SPECIAL (sponge biotechnology).

IMCAS (the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences [1]) launched the World Data Center for Microorganisms in 2011 [2]. Amongst many collaborations, IMCAS is or has been a partner in EU-funded projects PharmaSea (unblocking bottlenecks for marine biodiscovery) and MGATech (enzymes from hypersaline lake microbes).

Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP): the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Group, established in 2000, works on novel biomolecules from marine sponges, biocatalysis and biotransformation, biotechnology for sustainable use of marine bioresources and hydrogen production from marine green microalgae [3]. DICP’s Laboratory of Biotechnology, established in 2002, works in national key projects including biopharmaceuticals and natural biomolecules, biomaterials, renewable energy and environmental biotechnology [4].

East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai: the State Key Laboratory of Bioreactor Engineering is one of MOST’s institutions. SKLBE’s fields of activity include all aspects of bioreactor engineering in industrial biotechnology, biomaterials and tissue engineering and biomass energy. Marine biotechnology is mentioned as a specific topic [5].

First Institute of Oceanography provides supportive marine science on the environment, marine resources and ecology of Chinese seas, nearby oceans and polar sea areas [6]. Its Key Laboratory of Marine Bioactive Substances includes research into extreme environments and identifies, characterises and develops bioactives and bioresources suitable for foods, health foods, agrochemicals, medicines, biotechnology materials and platform chemicals.

Institute of Oceanology, Qingdao: the Key Laboratory of Experimental Marine Biology was the first ministry-level research facility in marine science in China. It focuses on resources exploration and sustainable utilisation in mariculture; issues and scopes are selection and safekeeping of strains, growth control to reproductive biology, genomics and bioinformatics, marine biotechnology, disease treatment and prevention, and natural bio-products R&D for pharmaceutical application. The Key Laboratory of Marine Ecology and Environmental Sciences (KLMEES) was founded in 2001 and provides background information for using marine bioresources [7].

Ocean University of China, Qingdao: the College of Marine Life Science houses two Provincial Key Labs of Marine Biotechnology, Marine Genetics and Breeding as well as the UNESCO Chinese Center of Marine Biotechnology, established in 1995 and working on marine yeasts and bacteria. The School of Medicine and Pharmacy also researches marine drug discovery and is a key laboratory of the Education Ministry [8].

The State Key Laboratory of Microbial Metabolism at Shanghai Jiaotong University includes several Laboratories led by notable researchers, including the Zhi-yong Li lab, working on the microbial symbionts of marine invertebrates and their metabolites and metagenomics and the Jian-Jiang Zhong lab, applying bioprocess engineering, microbial fermentation and systems and synthetic biology to marine biotechnology [9].

South China Sea Institute of Oceanology (SCSIO): the Hainan Key Lab of Tropical Marine Biotechnology is one of CAS’s knowledge innovation institutes, with post-graduate programmes in Marine Biology, Physical Oceanography, Marine Geology, Marine Chemistry and Environmental Science [10]. SCSIO has a programme on Sustainable Utilization of Tropical Marine Biological Resources, involving 3 key laboratories and 4 marine stations across South China . SCSIO has collaborations with the USA, Japan, Australia, European and ASEAN countries, amongst others.

YSFRI (the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute) researches environmental bioremediation, mariculture, molecular pathology, genetic improvement and marine bioactives and enzymes [11].

Other Key Laboratories include Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Marine Biotechnology, Lianyungang and the Key Laboratory of Marine Biotechnology, Ningbo University, Zhejiang. Beijing University School of Environment and Energy has research in bioengineering for algal biofuels.


China has 5 specific freshwater and marine culture or germplasm collections, and others associated with antibiotics, pharmaceuticals and industrial biotechnology [12].


A ‘new marine biological products industry technology innovation strategic alliance’, China’s first, was launched in 2012. It is supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Policy Research Office of the State Council and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), it includes the seaweed fertilizer company Lei Li Gong, the Chinese Seaweed Industry Association, the China Agricultural Technology Promotion Association, Beijing Science and Technology [Association], Zhongguancun Science Park (National Innovation Demonstration Zone) and many other relevant bodies. The alliance will cover the whole range of activities involving the sustainable use of marine algae, fish and crustacean for marine product industry development, including marine polysaccharides, proteins and esters. Biotechnology approaches will include enzyme engineering and biological, chemical and fermentation engineering.

Private investment

Shanghai Zeyuan Marine Biotechnology Ltd is carrying out R&D in new microalgae culturing technology by a novel sequential technique of heterotrophic cultivation–dilution–photoinducement, and development and industrialization of related products such as lutein and astaxanthin from Chlorella [13]. Shanghai Zeyuan Bio is also scaling up enclosed photobioreactors and open pond and optimising large scale photoautotrophic cultivation of marine microalgae to produce bioactives and microalgae biodiesel, with the aim of establishing new microalgae bio-refinery technology. R&D input is provided by collaborations with the State Key Laboratory of Bioreactor Engineering in ECUST, the First Institute of Oceanography and SOA. Products include marine Bacillus probiotics for plant pesticide and fertiliser use. The Xunshan Group, the biggest producer of brown seaweed globally, is working with the US company Bio Architecture Lab on a large-scale seaweed culture and biorefinery project off the Shandong coast.



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).