The untapped potential of marine micro-organisms in the Pacific is massive. Not much research has been done either- but these bacteria could provide solutions from cosmetics, to medicines and biodegradable plastics.
Bernard Costa is a Polynesian bio-chemist who established the first biotech company in French Polynesia.
Pacific Biotech and three French research bodies are investigating the potential harboured in the saline lagoons of French Polynesia. Costa says “Over here, the resources available force us to do a little head scratching to find their uses”.
Very few compounds from micro-organisms originate from marine bacteria. But due to this many scientists believe marine bacteria could produce a whole new range of bioactive chemicals. Pacific Biotech has discovered a bacterium in Kopara- large lagoons that have an orange cover- called Paracoccus zeaxanthinifacienspayriae that produces exopolysaccharide molecules with commercial potential as moisturizers and antioxidants.
"It’s a compelling alternative to the production of plastic," says Costa, as it would not be made from crude oil. He says the molecules could be made commercially with an industrial fermentation process, such as that used to produce beer.
Lone Gram, a biotechnology researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, says bacteria are already used extensively to make a large number of products that we use on a daily basis. Gram says compounds from marine bacteria could be used as anticancer drugs, to treat antibiotic-resistant infections or in biofuel production.
She says "The ocean is loaded with organisms that are unique to the marine environment… “What we don’t know is if the 99 per cent of organisms that we are not able to culture right now potentially harbour significant biotech potential”.