Everyone is talking about Blue Biotechnology, here is why
On the blue planet we call Earth, the marine environment constitutes 71% of the planet’s surface and more than 90% of the biosphere, ie. the areas where life prevails. Of the 36 rows (also called phylum in technical terminology) in which living organisms are divided, 34 are represented in the sea, whereas on the ground there are only representatives of 17 rows.
The sea represents many diverse niches; in the European waters alone, they range from the Arctic icy sea to the warm Mediterranean, from deep sea to coastal zones, from the nearing freshwater conditions in the Baltic Sea to the salty Atlantic, from algae-containing surface waters to low-light depths, etc. All these are within reach in the Blue Tech Cluster in Svendborg, Denmark. The environmental conditions that exist in the sea are significantly different from the conditions on land. The organisms that live in these different niches have developed specifically for the environment – and their biology is therefore often very diverse from anything we know.
Furthermore, within these very different marine environments, there are particular niches in which the physico-chemical conditions are extreme in relation to the surrounding environment and in relation to the environment in which human being lives. The organisms that can survive and thrive during such conditions are referred to as “extremophiles”. These organisms, and their way of living under extreme conditions, can give humans new opportunities to solve some of the tasks that sustainable development and survival require. The sea is the richest source of biological life on Earth. Already more species have been identified in the sea than on land, and researchers worldwide agree that it can be expected that there are many more species still to be discovered in the world’s oceans.
The sea has a significant influence on human life forms. It is one of the most important actors in climate regulation, it is our main transport route, and for many people the sea is the most important food resource. The sea is important.
Far greater potential than just fish
Exploitation of marine resources has traditionally been focused around fishery (and most recently breeding and growing), shellfish and seaweed in particular. The oceans, however, have much larger, and as of 2019 almost unexploited, resources in the form of biological principles that man can be utilized if we can understand and control these principles. For centuries, man has explored the biological principles of the land for technological exploitation. From plants, fungi, bacteria and animals we have extracted new enzymes and antibiotics, which in technological upscaling have been of great benefit to humans. It is obvious that among marine organisms exist both new bioactive substances (eg. new medical substances) and new biological principles that have not yet been utilized.
Technologies based on biology (= biotechnology) are increasingly used throughout our everyday lives. The biotechnology solutions usually result in a more sustainable production of food, feed, energy, medicine, etc.
In 2015, the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimated that approx. 50% of the soil’s crop and food production came from plant varieties developed using biotechnology.
Similarly, virtually all new medicines are expected from 2015 and onwards to be based on some form of biotechnology, and a similar development is expected on a large number of other products. The land-based biotechnology is thus growing strongly, but many researchers are even more expectant of the marine biotechnology, which is also called “blue biotechnology”.
Blue application in all sectors
The OECD has defined biotechnology as “Using science and technology on living organisms, parts thereof, products and models thereof, to change living or non-living materials to produce knowledge, goods and services”. In marine biotechnology, the living organisms originate from the marine environment. However, this is a broad and heavy definition, which we at Rocket57, with the support of Blue SDU, reformulate to:
Blue biotechnology (also called Marine biotechnology) can be defined as the discovery, exploration and use of biological products and processes from marine organisms (whole organisms, cells, genes) to perform practical tasks and to create useful products. The main areas of application of the marine biotechnology are medicine/health, food, cosmetics, aquaculture, agriculture, biofilm and corrosion, biomaterials, research tools, energy and environment.
Blue biotechnology differs from the other biotechnology sectors by being more cross-disciplinary in its scope. Where “red biotechnology” deals with the healthcare sector, “green biotechnology” relates to the agricultural sector and “white biotechnology” covers the industrial sector. Blue biotechnology can be applied cross-sectorial. The picture below exemplifies some of the synergies in play.
But wait… what about TECHNOLOGY?
There is also more to biotechnology when it comes to actual technology (a hyped word today). There is a world of new technological innovation that can be developed in the form of hardware and software that plays into e.g. the extraction of biotechnological material, analysis, growth and application of, e.g. biofilm to reduce algae formation on ships. Everything from robotics and drones for inspection and sampling, to engines that run on biodiesel extracted from used frying oil by utilizing certain algae forms, nanotechnology for oil spill encapsulation and technological methods to reduce pollution such as driftwood and plastics are some of the innovative opportunities we see the industry look into today.
In Rocket57, just like the industry, we also look into technologies that can optimize the often more protracted processes of maturing biological science to exploit by the industry. The effects of faster and more agile utilization of biotechnology using other technologies will, according to the OECD, as well as synergies in blue biotechnology to other biotechnology sectors, drive even more cross-sectoral innovation.
The need is there
Over the next two decades, OECD and non-OECD countries will face a number of social, economic and environmental challenges. World population is expected to increase by 28% from 6.5 billion in 2005 to 8.3 billion by 2030. While the planet’s natural resources are already over-exploited, this will increase the demand for health-related services due to the increasing life expectancy, but also essential natural resources such as; animal feed, food, clean water, energy, human settlement and fibers for clothing.
The market potential for blue biotechnology has been calculated by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the EU as one of the industries that will experience the greatest added value over the next 30 years. With a valuation of more than USD65 billion in 2018 and with an annual value added of up to 10%, one can expect that the industry will be worth more than the IT and robotics industries combined within a not so distant future. This exemplifies the fact that there is much value to be gained both in terms of business and social development in a global perspective.
Keep an eye on Rocket57 for more information on how to take part in innovation in blue biotechnology either as an entrepreneur, knowledge partner, industrial partner, advisory board or investor.