Mesophotic coral ecosystems are the light-dependent communities of corals and other organisms found at depths between 30 and 150 m in tropical and subtropical regions. Subject to stringent environmental conditions, their inhabitants have to adapt through biological and chemical means. The result is a vast potential resource of bioactive compounds for health and well-being. An industry-driven project, TASCMAR involves five private partners covering pharmaceutical, cosmeceutical, nutraceutical, depollution and bioremediation as well as a range of biotechnology sectors. “The overall strategy was to provide each of the partners with chemical and biological resources in the hope of developing products available immediately or in the short term for the market,” outlines Jamal Ouazzani, research director at the coordinating institute, the French National Centre for Scientific Research.
From bioremediation to biotechnology
The number of deliverables reflect the success of this strategy. Two innovative technologies to cultivate and extract marine organisms are now available on the market, respectively: UnifertexTM and SomartexTM. Both have reached technology readiness 7, where the system prototype has been demonstrated in an operational environment. An innovative eco-friendly technology, SomartexTM replaces dredging as a way of harvesting marine invertebrates for extraction of bioactive molecules. SomartexTM enables the collection of these potential target compounds without disturbing the delicate ecosystem in which the holobionts, or hosts, live with their microbial partners. Comprising a pump that channels the biomolecules for collection and further testing, SomartexTM fulfils all the criteria for an innovative eco-friendly technology. UnifertexTM heralds a new era in fermentation of target microbes associated with soft corals and sponges and enables their cultivation in a highly controlled environment. Developed with specialised remote supervision-enabled and control software, UnifertexTM complies with EU and international safety and security regulations as well as quality requirements. Two products are under pharmaceutical development, and a cosmetic line named Blue Elixir will soon be available in the market. For bioremediation, different kits for the identification of green bio-depollution solutions are reaching the final commercialisation steps.
Biodiversity at the forefront of our objectives
“In parallel, besides these short-term outputs, biodiversity management and the discovery of new species of invertebrates have been achieved,” emphasises Ouazzani. Seven new invertebrate species have been identified and several unique microalgal clades were reported. The importance of finding the best compromise between protection and exploitation of marine bioresources has been communicated through a comprehensive dissemination strategy. Through the TASCMAR website, 14 TASCMAR videos and TASCMAR Twitter, the initiative is targeting the scientific community, policymakers and the larger public.
Future work in the mesophotic zone
“Any collaborative project leads to the construction of a consolidated network, and any successful project wishes to continue its efforts by capitalising on what has been learned and above all by addressing new challenges,” emphasises Ouazzani. TASCMAR’s partners have therefore initiated various bilateral and multilateral collaborations and have just submitted a new European Horizon 2020 project, aimed at deepening the knowledge and exploitation of marine wealth.
TASCMAR, marine, SomartexTM, mesophotic, invertebrates, UnifertexTM, biodiversity, bioactive