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Innovative cultivation methods for marine biodiscovery

Project description

Unlocking the potential of sponges and seaweeds

In the vast depths of our oceans, the potential of marine bioactive molecules is hindered by a lack of controlled infrastructure, impeding their extraction and synthesis. With corals, sponges, and algae holding the key to high-value biomolecules, the marine environment faces challenges from both global change and unsustainable harvesting. Traditional microbial engineering falls short in meeting expectations for producing these bioactives. With this in mind, the EU-funded COMBO project aims to leverage synthetic biology, omics technologies, and innovative co-culture systems to engineer marine metabolic pathways. This will offer a sustainable solution to unlock the full potential of marine sponges and seaweeds for the benefit of pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.


Despite their well-recognized potential, marine bioactive molecules are still difficult to source due to a lack of controlled culturing and processing infrastructures, and their chemical synthesis is hampered by their chemical complexity. The marine environment is largely affected by global change and wild harvesting of marine bioresources does not represent a sustainable supply of these biomolecules. The main sources of the high-value biomolecules are corals, sponges, algae, involving industrial end-users in the medical and pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetic sectors. Therefore, new approaches are urgently needed in marine biotechnology as microbial engineering has not fully met the expectations for producing the marine bioactives identified in invertebrates and seaweeds. Recent advances in thesynthetic biology of terrestrial natural products are offering unique opportunities to supply bioactives of terrestrial origin. Omics technologies have also transformed the way the complexity of the marine holobiont can be viewed and today the integration of omics data such as genomics and metabolomics can increase our understanding of the functioning and processes of living organisms including their metabolic pathways. COMBO will allow the transfer of knowledge from terrestrial to marine biotechnology through the engineering of marine metabolic pathways using Omics approaches. The rationale behind COMBO lies in the power of synthetic consortia of host cells and microbial cells based on the concept of holobiont and auxotrophy. To this end, we will exploit the recent advances in co-cultures systems. Indeed, the development of synthetic consortia has been shown to support specific ecological dynamics, promote microbial species growth, and syntheses of valuable chemicals. COMBO will therefore expand the potential offered by underused marine sponges and seaweeds known to produce bioactives such as terpenoids and alkaloids for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical markets.


Net EU contribution
€ 566 413,75
H91 Galway

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Ireland Northern and Western West
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 566 413,75

Participants (11)

Partners (1)