University Of Hawaii, Berkeley Launch Marine Bioproduct Initiative

November 01, 1998

The University of Hawaii is the lead university and the University of California, Berkeley, its partner in a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center dedicated to marine bioproducts destined for the chemical, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and life sciences industries. The UH Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center (MarBEC) was selected from more than 160 initial proposals to receive $12.4 million over five years from NSF.

"The world's oceans represent one of our largest untapped biological resources. The diversity of marine life points to a myriad of new bioproducts waiting to be discovered and developed commercially," notes UH President Kenneth P. Mortimer. "A special feature of MarBEC's technology transfer program is its strong linkage to key business, financial and economic development organizations in Hawaii and to national laboratories and industries."

MarBEC has a critical mass of expertise that can be called upon to tackle major barriers or pursue opportunities in a timely fashion. In addition to the talented faculty at UH and Berkeley (see fact sheet), MarBEC will draw on Hawaii's experience and natural advantages in collecting and analyzing marine products and organisms, Mortimer adds. Years of research have created large and unusual collections of varied marine microbes at UH. The University's exceptional marine and ocean research fleet will aid in acquisition of even more biological resources, some from extreme environments, such as the undersea volcano Loihi, located 20 miles off the Big Island of Hawaii and extensively monitored by UH scientists.

"MarBEC's vision is to be a Pacific cornucopia that brings forth 21st century marine biotechnology businesses," says Oskar R. Zaborsky, center director and the HECO Williamson-Matsunaga Fellow in Renewable Energy Engineering Research (FREE) at UH Manoa. "We are in the international Year of the Ocean, and the time has come for a national effort that will bring benefits to Hawaii, California and the rest of the nation."

Adds Zaborsky: "MarBEC's mission is to lay the groundwork for future use of marine biotechnology products in the chemical, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and life sciences industries. MarBEC will incorporate expertise from many different fields of engineering and marine sciences to develop the basis of a working marine biotechnology industry. Priority marine bioproducts include carotenoid pigments, polyunsaturated fatty acids, biocatalysts and bioactive agents of medicinal use."

MarBEC will involve students from chemical engineering, ocean engineering and marine microbiology to create a new, interdisciplinary curriculum to produce the next-generation marine biotechnology engineers, Zaborsky continues. Additional partners in the multi-disciplinary effort include three national laboratories (Argonne National Laboratory, Edgewood Research Development and Engineering Center, and Eastern Regional Research Center), the Bishop Museum, State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Participating industrial firms include Aquasearch Inc., Aquatic Farms, Cyanotech Corporation, Eastman Chemical Company, Genencor International, Hawaiian Electric Company, Honolulu Venture Capital Inc., Monsanto Company and Precision Systems Science Company.

Documents officially accepting the grant to establish MarBEC were signed today at a UH Manoa gathering attended by Hawaii Gov. Benjamin Cayetano and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono. Says Cayetano: "Marine biotechnology is an industry that has its natural home in Hawaii because of the University of Hawaii. Our university ranks among the most respected in the world in marine science."
-end-


University of Hawaii at Manoa

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