Marine Biotechnology in USA

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National strategy for biotechnology

In September 2011, President Obama announced a National Bioeconomy Blueprint detailing Administration-wide steps to harness biological research innovations and address national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment. The Blueprint was released April 2012 [1].

National strategy for marine biotechnology

There is no nationally coordinated strategy for marine biotechnology in the USA. Although marine biotechnology is not mentioned specifically in the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, biodiesel from algae and biosensor for marine pollution are used as examples of US innovation and conservation and management of marine resources are described as ‘critically important to a bioeconomy’. Marine biotechnology was mentioned in a National Science Council report in 1995 .


The NSF (National Science Foundation [2]) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950, with an annual budget of about $6.9 billion (FY 2010). It funds c. 20% of all publicly-funded academic basic research in all non-medical fields. BIO (the Directorate for Biological Sciences) managed the Microbiology Observatories (MO) and Microbial Interactions and Processes (MIP) programmes, which included significant elements of marine ecology, microbiology and biotechnology. BIO’s total funding for 2011 and 2012 is approximately $712M, rising to $733M in 2013. The NSF is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics.

The USA’s NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [3]) coordinates most of the applied marine biotechnology research in USA. Research is supported through the National Sea Grant College Program [4], currently as part of the national plan ‘Meeting the Challenge, 2009-2013’ [5]. The Program consists of 32 university-based networked programmes, including coastal, oceanic [6] and undersea[7] work, across the entire USA. The Ocean Explorer program manages a research boat and provides a broad range of oceanic data in addition to bioresources exploration. The National Undersea Research Program includes biodiscovery, bioactives, and an active organism repository with over 2000 compounds available for screening based at the University of Mississippi.

The Sea Grant Program had a total budget of $62 million in 2011 and the budget is expected to increase to c. $70M in 2013. Meeting the Challenge mentions cutting-edge and new technologies, but does not mention marine or any other biotechnology specifically. NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research are contributors to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics.

DOE, the Department of Energy, is supporting marine biotechnology and especially the production of bioenergy from algae , through the ARPA-E agency (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy). Over 30 algal-based projects have been supported, at a cost of $85M. In February 2012, the US Government announced a new $14M programme for development of algal biofuels, which is intended to help USA reach its Biomass Program’s goal of >1B US gallons of algal-origin biofuels by 2022. The new programme is aimed at small businesses, in collaboration with academic units and national laboratories and may be extended in 2013 by a further $7M.

Centres of marine biotechnology research

California Scripps Institution of Oceanography CMBB,UC San Diego CMBB (Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine has a strong programme in marine biodiscovery, with spin-out Nereus Pharmaceuticals assisting in commercialisation of some of the outcomes and collaboration with UCSD’s School of Pharmacy. The Scripps is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics [8].
California Institute of Technology Caltech is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics. It hosts the Sea Urchin genome database SpBase [9] and has recently succeeded in producing a bioartificial jellyfish [10].
Colorado Colorado State University CSU has some work on algae for biofuels, including modelling and processing systems
Delaware The University of Delaware UD is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics
Florida HBOI, Florida Atlantic University HBOI (the Harbor Branch Institute) hosts CMBBR, the Center for Marine Biomedical and Biotechnology Research CMBBR is involved in drug discovery and characterization, marine biofuels and green chemistry [11].
The Smithsonian Institute’s Marine Station SI collaborates with Australia’s Taronga Zoo on cryopreservation of sponge polyps, operates a network of marine stations from the Caribbean through Central America along the USA’s western seaboard, and has carried out work on bioactives in Guam [12].
Illinois Argonne National Laboratory Argonne is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics
The University of Illinois The University is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics
The University of Illinois Institute for Genomic Biology Researchers are developing novel yeast strains that can carry out high-output fermentation of pentoses and galactose, the latter in collaboration with groups in the Republic of Korea, focusing on red seaweeds [13].
The University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute EBI produced an assessment of algal biofuels production [14] in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [15].
Maine Center for Blue Biotechnology (CBB) CBB, at The Bigelow Laboratory [16] has received support from NIST (>$9M), US Congress ($1.5M) and the Maine Technology Asset Fund ($4.5M) to build a new facility, housing the Single Cell Genomics Center for DNA research on microbial cells from the environment [17]. The Bigelow also hosts the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota containing one of the world’s first combined collections of marine algae, bacteria, archaea and viruses [18]; the J J MacIsaac Facility for Aquatic Cytometry [19]; and the Geomicrobiology Research Laboratory [20]. The Bigelow laboratory is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics.
Maryland The DMB, University of Maryland DMB (Department of Marine Biotechnology) has been formed after realignment of activities involving the Biotechnology Institute and the CoMB (Centre of Marine Biotechnology). DMB is responsible for fisheries and aquaculture research as well as marine microbiology, genetics, biodiversity and ecobiology [21].
IMET, University of Maryland CoMB was renamed IMET (the Institute for Marine and Environmental Technology) in 2010 [22]. CoMB has been a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics. IMET has programmes in molecular aquaculture [23], marine natural products [24], marine bioenergy [25] and extremophile biotechnology [26] as well as environmental genomics and metagenomics.
Massachusetts WHOI WHOI (the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) has a broad remit; in marine ecology, biology and biotechnology, as well as physical sciences. There are specific programmes on marine biofuels and co-products; marine natural products; marine lipids and biomedical applications; in situ genome analysis for monitoring; marine proteomics; ultra-high-resolution metabolomics; marine ecotoxicology. It has 3 ocean-going and 1 coastal research vessels and operates a number of submersibles [27].
Minnesota University of Minnesota The University was a member in the EU-funded project LIPOYEASTS
Mississippi NIUST NIUST (the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology) was founded in 2002 by the NOAAA and the Universities of Mississippi and Southern Mississippi [28]. One of its divisions is the OBCR Ocean Biotechnology Center and Repository, based at Uni Mississippi. OBCR manages a marine bioactives library, analysing and characterising the extracts for potential commercial use.
New Jersey Rutgers University Center for Marine Biotechnology RUCMB [29] is in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, and has research in algae for bioenergy [30].
New York Cornell University Cornell is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics
North Carolina Marine Biotechnology Center of Innovation NCBC (the North Carolina Biotechnology Center) established the MBCOI in August 2011 with a four-year, $2.5 million grant, to accelerate commercial product development from marine bioresources using biotechnology in health, energy, aquatic food and diagnostics. The research feed-in comes from Duke University, East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with additional contributions from community colleges and various state-sponsored organizations and agencies [31].
Oregon The Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine OHSU is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics. OHSU School of Medicine’s Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems has projects in marine bioactives [32].
Pennsylvania Drexel University Drexel is a contributor to EC-US Task Force meetings on marine biotechnology topics
South Carolina Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston This NOAA-funded Center hosts the Marine Biotechnology Program for Gulfbase [33].


The ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) is one of the most important repositories for living material, especially that associated with patentable inventions. For business in Europe and India it collaborates with LGC (UK).

HBOI maintains almost 50,000 samples of marine invertebrates and isolates of marine microbes within CMBBR’s Marine Drug Discovery Program [34].

HBOI’s Media Labs maintain the website of, which brings together academic and industrial scientists from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi and Oregon

Private funding

Nereus Pharma, Albany Molecular and Estée Lauder are three companies involved in developing or marketing marine-derived products, the first two for health and the third for cosmetics use.

Bio Architecture Lab, based in Berkeley California with subsidiaries in Chile, has collaborations with Statoil, the Norwegian-based international energy company, and Innova-CORFO, the Chilean Economic Development Agency, to develop processes for the production of ethanol, renewable chemicals, fertilizers, proteins and other natural products from seaweed, a renewable and sustainable aquatic-based feedstock [35].

Solazyme, innovators in algal biofuels, are in a partnership with Amyris, another US company producing plant-based biofuels, and Volkswagen of Germany, for a 12 month evaluation of biodiesels in VW’s TDI Clean Diesel engines [36].

The J Craig Venter Research Institute is heavily involved in marine biodiversity mapping, metagenomics and synthetic biology [37]. Sapphire Energy started up its algal biofuels plant in New Mexico in August 2012 [38]. Sapphire invested US$16M and was supported by US$85M in private investment. It raised YS$144 in a Series C round in April 2012, including input from Monsanto Co. With a US$50M US DoE grant and a US$54.5M USDA loan guarantee, as part of development of its Columbus NM site for the ‘algal crude’ project, total funding to April was US$300M.


The re-election of President Obama suggests that the USA will continue to favour investment into microalgal biodiesel and jetfuel.




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).