Home' Australasian BioTechnology : Vol 26 No 3 Contents Australasian BioTechnology | Volume 26 | Number 3
at AusBiotech’s International BioFest
What is the potential for growth in Australia’s marine
We have a significant opportunity to grow. The
aquaculture industry in Japan is worth about $14 billion.
In China, it is worth about $40 billion. Australia’s industry
is worth around $2.6 billion, while our ocean territory is
10 times that of China and four times that of Japan. We
can grow it to the level of China, but we haven’t done it
yet because our minds are not there. This is where the
marine biotechnology and marine products can come in
and present significant growth in jobs and the industry
to make the blue economy possible. We need to get the
message across to key influential players in the country.
Do environmental concerns come into play in this reluctance
to develop a blue economy?
A lot of arguments are around Australia having great
oceans, and that we want to preserve our marine
environment, which is perfectly fine. People don’t want
to do anything with our oceans because they think
it will damage our environment. But that is wrong.
We don’t have to sacrifice our environment. Marine
biotechnology is taking the approach of preserving our
biodiversity, and our environment, but in a way that
makes meaningful use of the biological resources to
sustain Australian economic growth.
Ridiculously, we are producing around 230,000 tonnes
of seafood per year, and exporting around 40 per cent.
But we are consuming around 345,000 tonnes per year
and importing more than 75 per cent of our seafood.
We cannot even meet our own seafood demand, and
with such a vast ocean territory.
We’ve spoken a bit about food production. What are the other
bioproducts that you think will be most rewarding in a blue
Excluding seafood, it will be functional food,
nutriceutical, supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics
and preventative medicines that use seaweed and
microalgae. We are focusing on South Australia
because South Australia hosts almost 15 per cent of the
world’s wild brown and red seaweed species. But we
don’t farm those; we don’t have the large resources.
These plants have a significant product potential in
biomaterial supplements and preventative medicine.
In terms of the number of new marine compounds
discovered, Australia is number four globally. Japan
is number one and Korea is two. We have great
discoveries, but not one single pharmaceutical product
on the market.
Is this an issue with the commercialisation process, or
perhaps a lack of investment?
Yes, there are two main issues. The first issue is policy
and legal uncertainty, and restrictions about where
biological resources come from. The second issue is
lack of investment in translational research, and local
commercial drivers. All over the world, the growth is
quite significant in this space.
Do you see benefits in international collaboration?
Yes, significant benefits. In the last five years, two
international joint industry laboratories focused on
macroalgae and microalgae biotechnology have
been set up to work towards understanding the great
resource we have been working on. They have an
investment of about $2 million.
Another example is that Australian Kelp Products, an
Australian company, was bought by Chinese company
Gather Great Ocean Algae Industry Group Co, which
also bought a license to harvest wild seaweed from
the shore in South Australia and turn it into organic soil
conditioners. That license is ongoing, but looking into
high-value products using the advanced technology
developed in our centre.
Are the benefits from overseas mostly funding related?
Yes, and because of that investment and that
international engagement, the state government is
realising the opportunity and is very supportive. There
are now several local commercial partners in the food
and cosmetics areas that are developing high-value
products. There’s a promotional opportunity to bring
international investment into our R&D and into our local
industry. Oceans of opportunity for Australia!
Wei Zhang will be speaking at the 17th
International Biotechnology Symposium
People don’t want to do anything with our
oceans because they think it will damage
our environment. But that is wrong. We
don’t have to sacrifice our environment
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