Marine Biotechnology in Japan

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National strategy for biotechnology

The Biotechnology Strategy Council issued Guidelines in December 2002. BioStrategy 2002 incorporated 4 Bio themes – Bio-Medical, Bio-Agricultural, Bio-Ecological and Bio-Informatics. The contributions of these four activities to the overall Japanese biotechnology market were projected to reach 8.4 trillion Yen, 6.3 trillion Yen, 4.2 trillion yen and 5.3 trillion Yen respectively, by 2010. Bio-ecological included environmental and biofuels applications.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

Marine biotechnology was included in the 2002 BioStrategy Guidelines, in the context of marine bioactives, molecular aquaculture and disease prevention, and infrastructural support (training, industrial support and interdisciplinary projects).


The 3rd Science and Technology Basic Plan (STBP) 2006-2010 [1] and the 4th STBP 2011-2015 provide the philosophical framework for practical approaches to R&D support. The 4th Plan includes green innovation and life innovation as two of its targets.

There is a Strategic International Research Cooperative Programme, the responsibility of the Department of International Affairs, which enacts those elements of the government's STBPs dealing with strategic promotion of international activities in science and technology [2]. The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST [3]) has been implementing the Strategic International Research Cooperative Programme since 2003, as designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on the basis of intergovernmental agreements. There are cooperations on marine biotechnology with CNRS France [4], bioenergy including marine microbes with CNPq Brazil [5], and marine science including algae with DIISR Australia [6].

In 2004, the Nippon Foundation and the United Nations established a Japan Fellowship programme for Government officials and other professionals focusing on ocean-related topics, including coastal zone management and conservation and management of marine living resources [7]. The programme is intended to raise knowledge and competence of international marine legal and management aspects, aligning with the UN’s work in the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UN DOALOS).

Centres of marine biotechnology research

University-based centres include the Shimoda Marine Research Centre [8] at the University of Tsukuba, working on molecular biology, cell biology, genetics and the Biotechnology Research Centre [9] at Toyama Prefectural University.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC [10]) was inaugurated in 1990. In 2007, its budget was Yen 41.9B (approx €250M).

There is some economic development and industrial interest in marine biotechnology. The Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO [11]) has an innovation collaboration programme JETRO-RIT, Regional Industry Tie-up; JETRO-RIT is supporting links between Hokkaido and New Zealand in the Hokkaido Bioindustrial Exchange with collaborations involving salmon skin collagen, salmon proteoglycan and marine functional foods [12].


The first substantial activity devoted to marine biotechnology was the establishment in 1990 of the Marine Biotechnology Institute, a 10-year project with over US$180M provided jointly by 24 Japanese companies and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry MITI. The lasting legacy of this is the Marine Biotechnology Institute Co Culture Collection at NBRC, the National Biological Resource Center [13]. Other centres within the National Institute of Technology & Evaluation Department of Biotechnology [14] include the Genome Analysis Centre (NGAC), the Biotechnology Development Centre (NBDC) and the Patented Microorganisms Depository (NPMD).

JAMSTEC has set up BISMaL, the Biological Information System for Marine Life, in 2009. This includes a publicly-accessible database of marine organisms, distribution, photographs and video based on information gathered by Japanese research vessels and submersibles [15]. JAMSTEC also hosts the Marine Biological Sample Database [16], information on collections made by JAMSTEC vessels; and Extremobase [17], sequences from JAMSTEC’s collection of extremophile organisms.

The NBRP (National Bioresource Project [18]) aims to create systematic and complete collections of all Japan’s biodiversity. The National Institute of Environmental Studies manages the NBRP algae project [8]. Medaka and zebrafish are also included in NBRP, due to their involvement in experimental physiology, embryology, molecular biology and medicines-testing.

The Japanese Society for Marine Biotechnology has a range of members including chemicals, energy and health companies [19].

Private funding

The biotechnology sector in Japan is strongly-established and was already worth almost US$20B in 2007, mainly pharmaceutical, food and chemicals activities, with well over 1000 companies. In November 2011 a joint venture was announced between three Japanese companies, IHI, Gene Technology YK and Neo-Morgan Laboratory Inc, IHI NeoG Algae LLC, to develop algal biofuels using the high-lipid producing Enomoto strain of Botryococcus braunii . Tokyo Gas established a pilot plant that used anaerobic digestion to turn seaweeds into bioenergy some time ago but it is not certain whether this has proceeded to a full-scale plant.



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).