BLUEBIONET
rides the biotech wave

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Bluebionet
Europe’s coastal regions have been thrown a much needed lifeline by the BlueBioNet project, which has linked up four of the EU’s maritime regions to help them share knowledge and boost innovation in the growing marine biotechnology sector.

The regions involved are geographically diverse, ranging from Germany’s Lower Weser in the north to Andalusia in Spain in the south, and Scotland in the west to France’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the east.

The EU has some 89 000 km of coastline, and almost half of all EU citizens live within 50 km of the sea. BlueBioNet’s results are therefore of relevance to many Europeans. For many years, coastal towns and regions across Europe relied on fishing and shipbuilding as their main source of both money and jobs. In recent years, these industries have experienced a sharp decline, leaving coastal communities facing an economic slowdown and high levels of unemployment.

Thanks to the BlueBioNet project, several collaborative projects involving researchers and businesses are now up and running, allowing the communities involved to turn to blue biotechnology for their living.

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A marine treasure trove

The sea covers around 70 % of the Earth’s surface and is home to 90 % of all living things, yet it remains relatively untapped and underused. Marine biotechnology, also known as blue technology, is an attempt to explore this biosphere and make use of nature’s own technology for the production of goods and services.

Research conducted to date has shown that the sea is rich in organisms with novel biological materials and unique metabolic mechanisms. These findings have already led to the development of commercially valuable bioactive compounds and substances for use in the food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and environment sectors, among others.

In terms of the economic benefits it could generate, marine biotechnology was globally valued at EUR 2.2 billion by the Marine Industries. Global Market Analysis in 2005. This is most likely an under-estimate, since some industries that only partially involve marine biotechnology, including those working with aquaculture, seaweed and processing, were not factored into this calculation. By 2009, the global market is projected to surpass EUR 2.6 billion.

Putting Europe at the head of the field

The EU is keen to raise awareness of the potential of marine biotechnology and marine science for creating new knowledge, improving industrial competitiveness and spurring on economic growth. However, many maritime regions interested in re-directing their resources to this sector have come up against several large problems. Among other things, regions sometimes have difficulties finding out what other regions are doing to stimulate research. Other problems include poor collaboration between regions and an inadequate transfer of results.

The BlueBioNet project sought to address this fragmentation of knowledge by linking up four coastal regions from across Europe. Despite their diverse locations, the regions involved shared many of the same problems, and crucially, shared the belief that marine biotechnology could provide a much needed boost to their weakened economies. All the members of the consortium were well established regional players in the field of networking, innovation and technology support, such as regional technology and innovation platforms.

The project aimed to support the development of the blue biotechnology sector in the regions; boost collaboration between research organisations and industry; encourage regional companies to embark on research activities; and promote research cooperation and technology transfer between the regions involved.

To achieve these goals, the partners created a search database where marine biotech partners were profiled, and organised regional and transnational brokerage events to raise awareness of the benefits of working in marine biotechnology. These events brought together participants from universities, companies (including small and medium- sized enterprises), regional research agencies and other key regional science generators.

Breathing new life into coastal economies

Through its activities, the project successfully attracted both private investment and public research funds to the regions involved. The regions benefit from the increased business and investment resulting from these joint ventures and projects.

For Q-Bioanalytic, a German biotech company which produces analytical testkits for the rapid detection of pathogenic micro-organisms, the breakthrough came at a BlueBioNet event in Malaga, Spain. There Q-Bioanalytic’s products in Spain. Following further meetings in Spain and Germany, a contract was signed making the Spanish company Q-Bioanalytic’s official distributor in Spain.

The project has been instrumental in setting up research and development projects between scientific organisations and companies. BlueBioNet also encouraged companies to apply for European research funds for their activities.

For example, the SPIINES (‘Sea urchin production in European Species’) project received funding from the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research to investigate how to improve integration, economics and market compliance for this commercially important species. The preparation of the proposal was made possible with support from the Scottish Proposal Assistance Fund.