Exploitation of the world's oceans is rapidly growing as evidenced by a booming patent market of marine products including seaweed, a resource that is easily accessible without sophisticated bioprospecting technology and that has a high level of domestication globally. The investment in research effort on seaweed aquaculture has recently been identified to be the main force for the development of a biotechnology market of seaweed-derived products and is a more important driver than the capacity of seaweed production. Here, we examined seaweed patent registrations between 1980 and 2009 to assess the growth rate of seaweed biotechnology, its geographic distribution and the types of applications patented. We compare this growth with scientific investment in seaweed aquaculture and with the market of seaweed production. We found that both the seaweed patenting market and the rate of scientific publications are rapidly growing (11% and 16.8% per year respectively) since 1990. The patent market is highly geographically skewed (95% of all registrations belonging to ten countries and the top two holding 65% of the total) compared to the distribution of scientific output among countries (60% of all scientific publications belonging to ten countries and the top two countries holding a 21%), but more homogeneously distributed than the production market (with a 99.8% belonging to the top ten countries, and a 71% to the top two). Food industry was the dominant application for both the patent registrations (37.7%) and the scientific publications (21%) followed in both cases by agriculture and aquaculture applications. This result is consistent with the seaweed taxa most represented. Kelp, which was the target taxa for 47% of the patent registrations, is a traditional ingredient in Asian food and Gracilaria and Ulva, which were the focus of 15% and 13% of the scientific publications respectively, that are also used in more sophisticated applications such as cosmetics, chemical industry or bioremediation. Our analyses indicate a recent interest of non-seaweed producing countries to play a part in the seaweed patenting market focusing on more sophisticated products, while developing countries still have a limited share in this booming market. We suggest that this trend could be reverted by promoting partnerships for R and D to connect on-going efforts in aquaculture production with the emerging opportunities for new biotech applications of seaweed products.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology