What is Blue Biotechnology? - Applications & Examples

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

You may be surprised to learn that many things you use regularly either come from or are derived from aquatic organisms. This lesson will explore this blue biotechnology, providing examples of how your world wouldn't be the same without it.

Taking Advantage of Our World

You may not realize it, but many of the products and services that you use on a daily basis are the result of biotechnology. Simply put, this is biology-based technology. Things like plastics, food and beverages, fabrics, medicines, and even personal care products are derived from or use living organisms. Blue biotechnology is biotechnology using aquatic organisms - think 'blue' for the water that these organisms live in. We already utilize many aquatic resources such as fish, shellfish, sponges, and petroleum reserves. But blue biotechnology goes beyond this, utilizing an incredible variety of organisms from Earth's oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams for many different purposes.

Human Applications of Blue Biotechnology

The applications of blue biotechnology are not new; we were extracting substances from sponges decades ago that have been used in things such as treatment for the AIDS virus. Cod liver oil has been used as a supplement since the 19th century. However, blue biotechnology feels like a modern field because it is flexible, adaptive, and constantly moving forward. Let's take a look at some examples of how blue biotechnology has been used more recently for the benefit of humans.

Targeted Pain Relief


Substances that come from aquatic animals, such as this cone snail, can be useful for blue biotechnology
cone snail


Many painkillers that are commonly prescribed have the unfortunate side effect of drowsiness. They also tend to slow down your body in general, such as your respiration. A substance called ziconotide, which comes from the venom of cone snails, may prove to be a better alternative.

Ziconotide works as a painkiller that, when injected directly into your spinal cord, is both far more powerful than morphine and also only acts in specific regions of the spinal cord. This means that unlike other painkillers, it doesn't affect your entire nervous system, and doesn't cause drowsiness. And like many other blue biotechnologies, ziconotide can also be created synthetically.

Algae

In addition to medical products, blue biotechnology can also be used for cosmetic products. Take for example a company that makes cosmetics from algae known as 'sugar kelp.' They grow, harvest, and ferment the algae, extracting a variety of things such as minerals, sugars, and iodine, and create products including perfumes and facial and body care products.

Algae has a variety of other applications as well. It's a food source for both people and fish, it is used in antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal treatments, it is a source of biofuel, and it's even being researched as a possible contraceptive.


Through blue biotechnology, sugar kelp like this is used for cosmetic products
sugar kelp


Jellyfish

Though you might think that jellyfish are only good for stinging, they have proven to be quite useful in blue biotechnology. For example, the luminescent properties of the species of jellyfish Aequorea victoria is being used to help map neurons in the human brain. Your brain is a complex web of neural connections, and being able to identify which connections go where can help researchers better understand diseases that involve problems in this 'wiring.'

Jellyfish are also being used to create a source of medical-grade collagen, which can be used to treat bones and wounds. Using jellyfish is more cost effective and is less controversial than other sources of collagen, such as from mammals.

Other Applications


Aquaculture relies heavily on blue biotechnology to increase production and reduce disease
fish farm


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