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Saturday, 23 March 2019
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Queensland & the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most complex natural systems and biodiverse regions on the planet, presenting marine biotechnologists with a treasure trove of potential biomedically and environmentally important compounds.

The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of northern and central Queensland, is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, consisting of over 2,900 separate coral reefs, 900 islands, and 2,000 square kilometres of mangroves, with species representing 54 per cent of the world’s mangrove diversity. The Reef extends over 14 degrees of latitude, covering a unique range of ecological communities, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters.

Queensland’s 6,000 kilometres of mainland coastline, diverse range of marine habitats and access to the unique biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef, provide the State with extraordinary opportunities in regards to the marine biotechnology industry. 

Some current examples include:

  • The ability of shallow water Great Barrier Reef corals to protect themselves from the damaging effects of UV light by producing compounds that filter it, first discovered by scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in the 1980’s, has moved a step closer to commercial application. Through a license to the AIMS IP and a collaboration between a North Queensland skincare company Larissa Bright Australia and the CSIRO, the natural molecules have been improved to create a suite of new broader-spectrum UV filtering molecules suitable for formulation in sunscreens.
  • Griffith University's Eskitis Institute and its Nature Bank, a collection of biota including Queensland marine samples, has been used to search for new treatments for neglected diseases such as malaria and sleeping parasites.
  • The chondropsins, a class of compounds found in Great Barrier Reef sponges, are a new therapeutic lead for human cancer and osteoclastic bone disease.  These compounds are currently ready for pre-clinical development in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
  • Great Barrier Reef coral are being studied to identify genetic traits responsible for greater tolerance to climate change stresses such as ocean acidification and temperature rise.  This knowledge will be used to build a biological toolkit and develop stocks of genetically improved corals for potential future coral reef restoration.
  • A joint project between the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University is studying viral pathogens of the bacteria that cause a common coral disease, to potentially develop phage-therapy as a new treatment of coral disease.
Some of Australia’s most elite marine science institutes are located in Queensland, and are world leaders in the discovery and application of marine biotechnology.