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RECOMMENDATIONS

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 potential implications and economic opportunities that could improve the international competitive position of the United States in the rapidly growing area of marine biotechnology. The committee recommends that the federal government commit to providing the infrastructure necessary to use the techniques of molecular biology in the marine sciences. In particular, the committee makes recommendations in four areas.

Research Needs

This report identifies a suite of critical scientific questions in the fields of marine biology and biological oceanography. From these important questions, the committee has identified seven basic research topics that it believes could immediately benefit from increased attention and more appropriate facilities for carrying out molecular approaches.

  • Quantification of inter- and intraspecific genetic variations for assessing species biodiversity, population structure, migratory movements, and gene flow. Data resulting from such assessments should be archived in a readily accessible format. 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.



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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS 6 RECOMMENDATIONS 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 potential implications and economic opportunities that could improve the international competitive position of the United States in the rapidly growing area of marine biotechnology. The committee recommends that the federal government commit to providing the infrastructure necessary to use the techniques of molecular biology in the marine sciences. In particular, the committee makes recommendations in four areas. Research Needs This report identifies a suite of critical scientific questions in the fields of marine biology and biological oceanography. From these important questions, the committee has identified seven basic research topics that it believes could immediately benefit from increased attention and more appropriate facilities for carrying out molecular approaches. Quantification of inter- and intraspecific genetic variations for assessing species biodiversity, population structure, migratory movements, and gene flow. Data resulting from such assessments should be archived in a readily accessible format. 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.

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS 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. 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 ocean 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). This effort would include development of specific molecular probes for (1) proteins important in physiology, particularly to study environmental effects on photosynthesis, respiration, growth, and reproduction of phytoplankton; (2) bacteria and macrophytes important for understanding cycling of biologically important elements (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) and control of global cycles; (3) phytoplankton and bacteria that produce toxic blooms; and (4) commercially and ecologically important fish species. In addition, as new molecular data become available, numerical models for ecological, physiological, climatic, and other processes will need to be modified to accommodate this new data. Technology Development, Technology Transfer, and Infrastructure Some advancement of fundamental biological knowledge has come 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 oceanography. Thus, more effective mechanisms for encouraging rapid 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).

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS 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 effectively. 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. 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 National Science Foundation 's 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.

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS 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, academic institutions, and industry in molecular marine biology research and infrastructure development. Other disciplines of marine science have found that regional or national facilities provide a means for efficient sharing of expensive resources. Examples include the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet, the JOIDES Resolution drillship, and the Woods Hole Accelerator Mass Spectrometer facility. National or regional facilities could provide needed upgrading of the infrastructure underlying U.S. marine biological research. 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 state-of-the-art instrumentation, and provide new facilities and laboratories where necessary. Modernize 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 above. Various agencies, particularly the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, have worked to establish culture facilities. Relatively few marine organisms can now be cultured through their life cycles, and most facilities still rely on capture and maintenance of wild organisms. With wild-caught animals, the genetic background, reproductive state, disease condition, and nutritional state are largely unknown, which presents numerous disadvantages. Modernized facilities should include capabilities for mariculture, isolation, and cultivation of microorganisms; specialized laboratories for animal health; equipment for molecular-biology-based research; modern microscopy; automated sampling; and computer access to data.

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS 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 rapidly transferred into the private sector for commercialization. Private sector participation in funding research efforts and infrastructure could speed the development of bioremediation and environmental monitoring methodologies, as well as 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 for screening contaminated waters, sediments, and seafood should be developed. In addition, techniques are needed to detect indicators of chemical and biological contamination in order to monitor 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 replaces 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 and has included marine aspects, explaining the opportunities that will accrue by fostering research in marine biotechnology and by promoting interagency cooperation. The 1992 FCCSET report states, “It is clear that Federal efforts in research laying the basis for further development of marine biotechnology must be intensified, to take advantage of largely untapped resources and to prepare skilled technicians and scientists for international competition in developing bio-industries in the 21st century. Just as important, application of biotechnological techniques is essential to elucidating oceanic processes affecting or controlling global processes.”

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY IN MARINE SCIENCE: SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS, TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACHES, AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS According to the same report (p. 58), the entire federal investment for fiscal year 1992 in marine biotechnology was about $44 million. Although the U.S. investment in marine biotechnology is significant, 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). As pointed out in the FCCSET report, Japan's investment alone is currently $180 million annually. Although exact figures are not available for each of the other countries, it is clear that their effort is very substantial (Yuan and Hsu, 1993; Zaborsky, 1993). The members of the Committee on Molecular Marine Biology feel strongly 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 encouragement and support.