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Marine Biotechnology

Introduction

Marine biology is the study of animals and plants that get found under salty water. It is a very broad field because the oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface. Marine biology is very important because the oceans have many functions including regulating climate, providing energy, income and above all food. Marine biology involves analysis of fish, organisms, plants and marine mammals. It also deals with the ocean’s ecosystem (Zottoli, 2009).

Marine biotechnology is the use of water organisms or their products to provide services or goods in order to improve human life. It studies the marine resources around the globe.  The growing global population puts pressure on the society to produce food, water and shelter. This has therefore pushed scientists to continue to look to the oceans to help sustain human basic needs. A technological advance together with this demand improves ability to derive food, energy sources, waste disposal, drinking water and transportation from the ocean. Marine biotechnology builds upon the existing knowledge to help satisfy the needs of the world and its inhabitants. Around 40% of coastal waters right now are unfit for swimming and living organisms (OECD, 2010).

Marine biotechnology is working out ways to restore these waters so that we can maximize the marine resources. Through marine biotechnology researchers have been able to provide new techniques to bring back and protect aquatic ecosystems. They are working to come up with new ways for treating illnesses and monitoring health. Biotechnologists are looking to increase food supply through aquaculture and ensure seafood safety and quality. Marine biotechnology broadens what we know about geochemical and biological processes in the marine world. They have also come up with new types of industrial resources, processes and materials. Interest in marine biotechnology has therefore grown because of the growing knowledge and development of tools to access and study marine ecosystems and organisms. Marine has the power to contribute to health and rapid growth of industries.

Marine tapped resources.

Marine biotechnology is making an important contribution towards meeting societal challenges and supporting economic recovery and growth.  It does this by delivery of new products, services and knowledge. There are some marine resources that have already been discovered to provide required raw materials to meet this goal.

It provides a steady supply of good quality and healthy food. Marine biotechnology has contributed to production of efficient and quality product. It has done this through development of sustainable practices by better understanding of the molecular and physiological basis for reproduction and growth. Proteins and enzymes from marine organisms also contribute a lot to industrial biotechnology. A lot of industrial materials come from the proteins and enzymes. A macro alga like the macrocytis pyrifera becomes used to produce alginates- polysaccharides. It gets used in textile, food industry and for medicinal purposes. Red algae like kappa- carrageenan gets used in beers, baked products and processed meats. It also becomes used in emulsifiers, water binders, thickeners and gel formers. Micro – algae like carotenoids get used commercially as pro-vitamin A, colorant agents and antioxidants.A marine sponge like protophlitaspongia sp gets used in anti-tumor agents and anti-inflammatory agents. It also becomes grown in laboratories for production of bioactive agents.

Marine untapped resources

The ocean is an untapped source of drugs, vaccines, food supplements, additives, energy, medicinal properties, and bioactive substances. 

Food

Biotechnology holds the promise of increasing food supplies from the ocean. When it comes to marine provision of food, commercial aquaculture continues to face challenges in understanding and controlling reproduction growth, early life-stage development, nutrition, disease and animal health management. This makes it hard to control and predict animal population in the oceans. One of the factors contributing to lack of marine food is commercial overfishing and pollution. More fish becomes fished than those that get hatched. This has led to reduced ability of the ocean to provide enough food. This makes food scarce even in areas found next to the oceans. Food is not scarce according to biotechnology. There is plenty but only if the right fishing procedures are followed.

 Marine biotechnology is working very hard on this by coming up with new knowledge and tools to enable us find out the ocean population. When this gets done then we are able to tell when the best time to fish is and what the best ways of fishing are. Marine biotechnology in an attempt to enhance food production from the oceans are looking to develop innovative methods based on – omics and systems biology for selective breeding of aquaculture species. They want to come up with biotechnological applications that will increase sustainability of aquaculture production. This will include; sustainable technology for feed supply, zero-waste recirculation systems and alternative measures to increase environmental welfare. When this is done, we can devise a way of acquiring fish all year round without having to worry that we have overfished.

Marine biotechnology also wants to integrate new environmental friendly feed ingredients to improve quality of products and human health benefits. All these will lead to development of food products and ingredients of marine origin like algae, invertebrates and fish. Molecular genetic studies get done to fisheries to identify natural populations and mixed stock interactions. This is also to estimate stocking efficiencies with pedigree. Seafood illness also adversely affects the potential of oceans to provide food for the vast populations. Molecular technology is therefore becoming used to developing diagnostic ways that ensure the safety of seafood we eat and vitality of the seafood industry (Dunford, 2012). If sea plants and animals can be modified for safe consumption by majority, then there will be plenty of food for the majority. Marine biotechnology are even looking into ways that it can be blended with the common foods so as to make it taste more familiar to the majority. This can also be done by adding flavors to the sea food.

Energy

The ocean has not been exploited for provision bio energy. There is plenty of untapped energy in the oceans.  Production of biofuel from microalgae is the most promising option to harvest this huge energy potential. Production of oil from microalgae is considerably higher than from terrestrial crops. For it to be a viable venture the cost of production will get reduced and the scale of production increased. Cultivation of microalgae for the era of bio-energy is an important challenge for marine biotechnology in the 21st century. The following are some examples of microalgae that can be used to provide biofuel;

The vegoil algae can be harvested and changed into biodiesel/green-diesel oil. Algae’s carbohydrate could be fermented into biobutanol and bioethanol. Microalgae grow much faster than terrestrial crops. Per unit yield of oil obtained from algae is approximately around 5,000-20,000 of gallons per acre/annum. This is almost thrice what can be yielded from the terrestrial crops. Butanol can be made from algae using a solar engineered biofinery. This has an energy density which is 10% less than gasoline but greater than ethanol and methanol. Butanol can be an alternative for gasoline which is used by many but more expensive to produce than butanol. Methane can be generated from algae through anaerobic digestion or pyrolisis. Algae can generate oil up to three hundred times more per acre compared to normal crops like soybeans and palms. Algae can be used for that sole purpose also. This is unlike the soybeans and palms which also have to be produced for human consumption. This makes it more economical to produce oil from the algae. They also have a relatively short harvesting period of 1-10 days and hence permit several harvests within a short time. This is therefore an untapped resource that has become ignored and is trying to be reached by the marine biotechnology (Seymour, 1999).

Toxic polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which get found in tar, oil and fossil fuels are found in highly industrialized estuaries. Researchers have isolated marine that degrade PAHs and are looking to discover a simpler ways of acquiring the toxic polyaromatic hydrocarbons in a cheaper.

Drugs and medicinal properties

Drug discovery is among the most important and visible outcomes of marine biotechnology research. Biochemical produced by marine invertebrates, algae and bacteria are very different from those related to terrestrial organisms. They offer a great potential as new classes of drugs. Researchers have looked at the natural compounds found in marine living organisms and found many with ability to be used as life saving drugs. Currently there are around 15 natural products from marine in variety of stages of clinical development. Majority are in the oncology area with more on the way and several products already in market. Coral reef invertebrates like the sponges, ascidians, mollusks and bryozoans can be used to create compounds used for biomedical discovery (Fleming, 2006). Invertebrates, algae and bacteria are also known to be of more pure breeds than the terrestrial organisms. This is because there is little or no interference with their breeding. This quality makes them a better raw material for manufacture of drugs than the terrestrial organisms. The following are examples of potential marine derived drugs;

An antibiotic can be derived from fungi. These are two related compounds derived from a sponge that treat herpes virus and cancer (Raghkumar, 2012). A neutroxin from a snail known as ziconotide could become used as a painkiller making it 10,000 times better than morphine plus it has no side effects. It can be used to treat neuropathic pain. A compound derived from mangrove tunicates holds the promise of being used as an anti-tumor treatment. The ones derived from corals can be used in anti cancer activity. Byrostatin –like compounds are under investigation as anti-cancer therapy. Marine derived cancer drug from a Caribbean Sea sponge known as Cytosar-U is a chemical that can be used to treat leukemia and lymphoma. One tunicate found under the crystal waters of West Indies in the mangrove swamps and coral reefs has been discovered to be the source of a cancer drug called ecteinascidin that was under experiment. Kahalalide F isolated from the Hawaiian mollusc E is able to sequester chloroplasts from an alga in the synthesis of secondary metabolites. It can be provided for treatment of prostate cancer and other solid tumors. Deep water sponges and other organisms have been collected and are being analyzed for compounds that can be used in clinical trials for treating cancer (Kijjoa, 2004). Soft water algae can cure tuberculosis, arthritis, colds, influenza and worm infestation. With these solid examples we can see the marine organisms have the potential to treat most chronic and terminal diseases like cancer. 

Nutritional supplements.

Sea water contains minerals in organic form and in proper quantities required by the human body. Marine plants particularly water algae can be used to enhance health by boosting immunity and detoxifying the body. Some sea plants produce potential vermifugal agent (kainic acid). This can be used to remove excess fluids from the body in built up cells and dissolves fatty disposals by releasing them through the skin. It then replaces them with exhausted minerals particularly iodine and potassium.

Sea vegetables have been acknowledged as a detoxifier, balanced nourishment and a healing plant. Ocean algae are rich sources for minerals, rare elements and trace minerals. These are minerals and elements that are found in very small quantities in food elements. Emerald sea is packed with vitamins, traces minerals, antioxidants, omega 6, and omega 3 and hosts a number of power packed nutrients. Such nutrients are very good for human beings because they prolong life by keeping the body’s functions active and normal. Sea weed can get rid of radioactive strontium and heavy metals from human system. Brown sea weeds such as kelp contain acid of an alginic nature which mixes with toxins found in the intestines making them indigestible and takes them out of the human body. Sea vegetables are low calorie, fat free and provide a rich source for minerals. It therefore has the potential of providing required mineral while averts the risk of situations like obesity.

Human blood and sea water and contain majority of similar minerals in similar concentrations.  Natural iodine therefore boosts thyroid activity.  A fat soluble vitamin, Vitamin K, dissolves in seaweeds, and helps adrenal regulation. Sea weed bath helps maintain normal hormonal balance for a youthful body.

Industrial products

Proteins and enzymes from marine organisms already contribute significantly to industrial biotechnology but can also support novel process development in food and pharmaceutical industries or in molecular biology and diagnostic kits. Biopolymers have received increasing attention from the medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries for numerous applications ranging from biodegradable plastics to food additives, pharmaceuticals and medical polymers. There is also attention on wound dressings, bio-adhesives, dental biomaterials, tissue regeneration and 3D tissue scaffolds (Wrigley, 2000).

Algae and fish compounds can be used to make cosmetics. Oceans can be mined for minerals like sand, gravel, salt, copper, iron, manganese, nickel which can all be used in the industries for production of various products. Modern biotechnology is being applied to improve digestibility of animal feed and the nutritional value. This is also being done to produce vaccines that can do away with animal diseases. They are working to provide diagnostics to discover BSE, salmonella and foot and mouth diseases which are the common animal diseases. Algae enzymes can be used to process beverages such as beer, fruit juice, cheese, bread and other food products. These enzymes can be used in production of biomass for energy, detergents, pulp and paper and textiles. Bio-based products from sea plants that are renewable can offer a reduction in CO2 and lower toxicity. It can also help create new products like biodegradable plastics.

Alginate, carrageenan and agar are carbohydrates that can dissolve in water and are used to make aqueous solutions thick in water to form gels of vary degrees and strength which form water-soluble films. This can be used as stabilizers for products such as ice cream. They control formation of large crystals which get ice cream to retain a smooth feel. Seaweed meal can be used to make animal feed if used as an additive. Fifty thousand tonnes of wet seaweed can be yielded annually making it a very good source for industrial use. Marine extracts, extract of algae and seaweed extracts can be used to manufacture creams and lotions. Alginate or carrageenan can improve moisture retention properties of the skin for products (Kijjoa, 2004). Seaweed pastes, made by freeze crushing or cold crushing, are used in thalassothrerapy. It can be applied to the person’s body after which it is warmed under infrared. This treatment can provide relief for osteoporosis and rheumatism.

Benefits of marine life to humans and animals

The tapped and untapped resources that have been explained and how important marine life is to man and other animals. We have already established that marine life covers ¾ of the earth surface and we must depend on it for our survival.

Marine mining for oil and gas and dredging of gravel and sand is a very important activity for human beings. This is made possible by marine life like algae which can be processed to produce oil for use by human beings. Humans can also mine tin, gold, diamonds, monazite which can be used in their industries to manufacture other products like jewellery. Mining from the sea when provide with the right technology is a lot easier than doing it from the earth’s crust. Tourism and recreation is a very important benefit of marine life to human. This is a major economic activity in many countries whether rich or poor. Marine biotechnology is therefore trying to tackle issues of waste disposal so as to make the oceans safe for swimming.

Coastal marine aquaculture attempts to deal with shortage of expensive species in high demand, which is not possible to supply through fishing. They are looking for new ways to increase breeding of ocean fish so as to meet the demand. The ocean has the important role of controlling the world’s climate. It releases more oxygen into the atmosphere than all the world’s forests combined. This is because of the marine vegetation the phytoplankton. Marine life accounts for 140 billion jobs in fishing and aquaculture and many in indirect employment in sea related activities.

Conclusion

 Marine biodiversity and marine living resources must be maintained because they are very important to man. They provide people with food, jobs and income. Marine living resources have very great potential to maintain human life because it covers a very vast expanse and can cater for the growing human population. These resources represent food security, economical security and social security. Marine untapped resources are an advantage to humans because they provide room for discovery of new vaccines, medicines, diagnostic agents, additives, bioactive agents and sources of energy. Marine biotechnology is a very important sector as it works to maximize potential of the marine living sources by coming up with new ways of utilizing these resources.