marine biodiscovery in south africa. Science, conservation, governance and equity

By Jessica Lavelle and Rachel Wynberg & with contributions from Jennifer Whittingham

“Marine ecosystems and biodiversity are critical to global food security, planetary health and human wellbeing. The “ocean genome”, the genetic material present in all marine biodiversity, including both the physical genes and the information they encode (so-called digital sequence information, or DSI), holds enormous potential for improving the quality of human life and contributing significantly to economies as marine organisms offer unique genetic resources that can be used for a range of applications including pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, biofuels and agriculture.

Globally, South Africa has the third highest levels of marine endemism, with an estimated third of its marine biodiversity endemic to the area, owing to its unique biogeography. As a biodiversity hotspot, South Africa’s marine environments have long been of interest as a source of novel compounds, with early biodiscovery dating back to the early 1970s. The richness of South Africa’s marine biodiversity offers exceptional opportunities for marine biodiscovery and is of worldwide interest for novel compounds. Today there exists a vibrant research community dedicated to exploring South Africa’s marine genetic resources. Significant research capacity exists in-country to carry out all stages of the discovery phase, working actively through local and international partnerships to complement expertise, share resources, develop research capacity and enable opportunities for commercialisation…”