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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The ocean plays an important role in regulating the earth's climate, sustains a large portion of the earth's biodiversity, is a tremendous reservoir of commercially important substances, and is used for a variety of often conflicting purposes. In recent decades marine scientists have discovered much about the ocean and its organisms, yet many important fundamental questions remain unanswered. Human populations have increased, particularly in coastal regions. As a result, the marine environment in these areas is increasingly disrupted by human activities, including pollution and the depletion of some ecologically and commercially important species. There is a sense of urgency about reducing human impacts on the ocean and a need to understand how altered ecosystems and the loss of marine species and biodiversity could affect society. During the past two decades, the development of sophisticated technologies and instruments for biomedical research has resulted in significant advances in the biological sciences. While some of these technologies have been readily incorporated into the study of marine organisms as models for understanding basic biology, the value of molecular techniques for addressing problems in marine biology and biological oceanography has only recently begun to be appreciated. The exploitation of molecular biological techniques will allow difficult research questions about marine organisms and ocean processes to be addressed and will offer new capabilities to tackle problems associated with global climate change, biodiversity, environmental quality, and responsible use of living marine resources. The knowledge gained from basic research on marine organisms could also provide a basis for new commercial opportunities of economic importance for future generations. Immediate benefits could include improved management of fisheries resources, enhanced production of useful species through aquaculture, isolation and development of useful natural products from marine organisms, better information for the mitigation of environmental degradation, and the development of predictive models that will permit responsible management of marine resources.
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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS This report defines critical scientific questions in marine biology and biological oceanography, describes the molecular technologies that could be used to answer these questions, and discusses some of the implications and economic opportunities that might result from this research which could potentially improve the international competitive position of the United States in the rapidly growing area of marine biotechnology. The committee recommends that the federal government provide the infrastructure necessary to use the techniques of molecular biology in the marine sciences. In particular, the committee makes recommendations in four areas, summarized below and explained in greater detail in Chapter 6. Recommendations Research Needs This report identifies a suite of critical scientific questions in the fields of marine biology and biological oceanography. The committee has targeted seven basic research topics that it believes could benefit from increased attention and more appropriate facilities for carrying out research based on molecular techniques. Quantification of inter- and intraspecific genetic variations for assessing species biodiversity, population structure, migratory movements, and gene flow. Of particular importance are DNA-based data for commercially important fishes, other species that are indicators of ecosystem health, and critically endangered species. Clarification of the role of marine viruses in marine ecosystems in light of their potential importance in ocean processes. Determination of effects of the environment on physiology and adaptation, especially the mechanisms regulating gene expression at the molecular level. Elucidation of metabolic pathways in marine organisms that lead to the synthesis and degradation of secondary metabolites and contaminants. Investigation of the role of chemical signals in the marine environment, including their chemical nature, detection, and potential usefulness to humans.
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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS Investigation into the basic biology of a series of “keystone” marine organisms in order to develop techniques for assessing their physiological status in relation to recruitment processes, biogeochemical cycles, and other oceanic processes. Investigation of how eutrophication, toxic discharges, global change, and other human-induced environmental disruptions affect the abundance, distribution, and ecological success of species (i.e., biological diversity). Technology Development, Technology Transfer, and Infrastructure Some advances in fundamental biological knowledge have been achieved through the development of new molecular technologies. The development of these technologies has occurred outside the marine sciences. Technologies to solve many of the complex problems faced by marine scientists, therefore, either do not exist or must be redesigned for marine science. Thus, more effective mechanisms for encouraging the transfer of molecular biological technologies into marine science laboratories must be developed, if this field is to fulfill its potential. There are three aspects of this process: development of new technologies, transfer of new technologies into the marine sciences, and provision of infrastructure (e.g., facilities, equipment, study organisms). Technology Development: The technology development upon which marine science depends will occur in many places—commercial, government, and academic laboratories —with a wide range of foci, including biomedical research, agricultural research, and marine science research. Although the committee does not make recommendations regarding the mechanisms required to accomplish this development, it does make a number of recommendations identifying research areas that would benefit from technology development. Couple molecular methods with new detection systems and computer-controlled robotic systems, so that large numbers of samples can be analyzed rapidly. Determine the potential usefulness of marine viruses as vectors for the genetic manipulation of marine organisms. Choose a series of key model marine organisms for comprehensive molecular-level study of developmental processes throughout their life cycles.
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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS Technology Transfer: Technology transfer implies the application to marine science of techniques developed originally for use in other areas. Components of technology transfer include education and training, as well as mechanisms to adapt molecular techniques developed outside marine science for the study of marine organisms and processes. The technologies and approaches of molecular biology could contribute to existing federally funded initiatives, such as the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, the Ridge Interdisciplinary Global Experiment, the Land Margin Ecosystems Research program, and the Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics program. Specific recommendations call for: Developing technology to enable manipulation of organisms on board ships and in the laboratory under in situ environmental conditions. Maintaining and strengthening research fellowships and traineeships in molecular marine biology. A training program for midcareer biological oceanographers and marine biologists who desire to use molecular biological techniques in their research should be established. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would benefit greatly by establishing a marine biotechnology graduate fellowship program through its Sea Grant Program, with an applied science focus to study environmental change, land-sea interactions, water quality and productivity, habitat quality and restoration, and health of living resources. Infrastructure: Appropriate infrastructure will be necessary to promote development of new technologies and to provide opportunities for their use in marine science. Infrastructure modernization will be necessary for many marine research and teaching facilities in the United States. It is recognized that responsibility for these tasks belongs in some cases to the federal government and in others to universities, scientific societies, industry, and individual scientists. There is an opportunity for collaborative efforts among government, academia, and industry in molecular marine biology research and infrastructure development. The committee makes three specific infrastructure-related recommendations: Increase the availability of equipment and instrumentation needed to enable marine ecologists and biological oceanographers to perform molecular studies. Improve the basic infrastructure of undergraduate and graduate teaching laboratories, to include modern instrumentation, and provide new facilities and laboratories where necessary.
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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS Modersnize U.S. facilities for the culture of marine organisms to ensure a supply of critical microorganisms, marine algae, plankton, and marine animals for the studies recommended in this report. Public and Commercial Applications A mechanism is needed to promote collaborative partnerships among federal agencies, academic marine scientists, and private industry and to permit appropriate research findings on marine organisms to be transferred rapidly to the private sector for commercialization. Private sector participation in funding research efforts and infrastructure could speed the development of bioremediation and environmental monitoring methodologies and could promote basic research on the biochemistry of novel compounds and metabolites that might be useful for biomedical applications. The private sector could also benefit from participation in a partnership with marine scientists and federal agencies to help support studies of marine biodiversity, which has the potential for exciting discoveries of biomedically important and/or environmentally useful organisms and compounds. In particular, the committee has identified three areas where the application of molecular biological techniques may lead to improvements in public health and/or the development of new products: Better methods and indicators of chemical and biological contamination for screening contaminated waters, sediments, and seafood should be developed. This will allow monitoring of the safety of the marine environment and its living resources. Bioremediation methods should be explored using marine organisms or their gene products. Rapid screening methods for identifying and isolating biomedically useful compounds from marine organisms should be developed. Coordination of Support The National Science and Technology Council, which replaced the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET), provides a mechanism to integrate the biotechnology funding of federal agencies. FCCSET had been developing a coordinated national effort in biotechnology, including marine aspects, documenting the opportunities that will accrue by fostering research in marine biotechnology and promoting interagency cooperation. Although the U.S. investment in marine biotechnology is significant (about $44
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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS million in FY1992), it is modest compared with the efforts of some of America's most competitive international trading partners. Sensing the tremendous economic opportunity for marine biotechnology in the future, Australia, Norway, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and other European and Asian countries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on marine biotechnology research and development (Myers and Anderson, 1992; Yuan and Hsu, 1993; Zaborsky, 1993). The Committee on Molecular Marine Biology believes that, in order to answer the scientific questions posed in this report, achieve the scientific potential afforded by the techniques of molecular biology, and enhance the development and international competitiveness of the United States in the area of marine biotechnology, several actions will be necessary: Federal agencies, private industry, and academic scientists should work more closely together. The federal government should make an immediate long-term commitment to support molecular marine biology and biotechnology research and development. Adequate facilities and committed researchers are essential for scientific advances; the federal government, private sector, and scientists should work together to ensure that these physical and human resources will be available. Oceanographic programs with biological components, and individual scientists working on questions amenable to molecular approaches, should be targeted for education and financial support.
Representative terms from entire chapter: