The ocean genome, the genetic material present in all marine biodiversity, is the foundation upon which all marine ecosystems rest and is linked to the existence of all life on Earth.
A new expert report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and co-authored by research associate Colette Wabnitz explores current understanding of the ocean genome and identifies opportunities for more sustainable and equitable use of these genetic resources.
As Wabnitz explains, the ocean genome not only improves ecosystem resilience but also provides benefits to human health and well-being: “The ocean's genetic material has led to fundamental scientific breakthroughs, including on how to deal with past diseases, our current pandemic and potential answers to future diseases.”
Advances in science and technology over the past decade highlight the ocean genome’s importance. Compounds from marine organisms have led to the discovery of multiple anticancer treatments and antibiotics. Recently, enzymes from the deep sea have played a key role in COVID-19 testing.
The report also urges conservation and equitable governance of marine genetic resources. Research suggests that at least 30 percent of representative marine ecosystems need to be fully or highly protected to maintain a healthy, productive and resilient ocean. International collaborations have the potential to support ocean conservation and scientific cooperation.
“We need to make sure that research around the ocean genome engages with and provides opportunities for developing countries,” Wabnitz continues. “We also need to make sure that any benefits are distributed equitably.”
This paper is part of a series of 16 Blue Papers, commissioned by the Ocean Panel, to explore pressing marine and economic challenges. Together the Blue Papers summarize the latest science, technology, policy, governance and financial thinking about how to move into a more sustainable and prosperous relationship with the ocean. They are written by over 200 leading experts from 47 countries around the world, and will all be released by October 2020.