If the Earth’s biodiversity is information barely tapped and potentially limitless, the ocean is the library because it is where all life began over 3.5 billion years ago, and where 36 of the 37 known animal and plant phyla still remain, half of them exclusively. Such phylogenetic diversity has generated an immense arsenal of biological systems, metabolic machinery and other adaptive strategies designed to meet the challenges of life in the ocean – a physically extreme and demanding environment characterised by ruthless biological competition. Phylogenetic origin continues to empower marine organisms with the ability to generate bioactive compounds to improve their fitness for survival, for example by warding off predators, recovering from disease, or competing for space on a coral reef.
The results from this 3.5 billion year track record of evolutionary biotechnology innovation, are now available as raw materials to modern marine biotechnologists. They examine these bioactive compounds and processes derived from biodiversity to identify those which can be developed into new applications in a range of industry sectors.
This opportunity is as immense as marine biodiversity itself – and is growing as our knowledge about biodiversity expands. Despite 250 years of taxonomic classification including the recent 10 year Census of Marine Life effort, in which 2,700 scientists from 80 countries worked together, only 9 per cent of an estimated 2.2 million marine animal and plant species have been described, along with 18 million different forms of marine microbial life. All these estimates are set to climb as new knowledge and technology is developed to calculate them.
The vast potential of unexplored regions and biodiversity in our oceans and marine environments provides fantastic opportunities for new product development and ensures that marine biotechnology is a growing and important sector of the Queensland (and Australian) economy and life sciences industry.