Bio-mining the microbial treasures of the ocean: new natural products

Biotechnol Adv. Sep-Oct 2011;29(5):468-82. doi: 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Mar 17.


The biological resources of the oceans have been exploited since ancient human history, mainly by catching fish and harvesting algae. Research on natural products with special emphasis on marine animals and also algae during the last decades of the 20th century has revealed the importance of marine organisms as producers of substances useful for the treatment of human diseases. Though a large number of bioactive substances have been identified, some many years ago, only recently the first drugs from the oceans were approved. Quite astonishingly, the immense diversity of microbes in the marine environments and their almost untouched capacity to produce natural products and therefore the importance of microbes for marine biotechnology was realized on a broad basis by the scientific communities only recently. This has strengthened worldwide research activities dealing with the exploration of marine microorganisms for biotechnological applications, which comprise the production of bioactive compounds for pharmaceutical use, as well as the development of other valuable products, such as enzymes, nutraceuticals and cosmetics. While the focus in these fields was mainly on marine bacteria, also marine fungi now receive growing attention. Although culture-dependent studies continue to provide interesting new chemical structures with biological activities at a high rate and represent highly promising approaches for the search of new drugs, exploration and use of genomic and metagenomic resources are considered to further increase this potential. Many efforts are made for the sustainable exploration of marine microbial resources. Large culture collections specifically of marine bacteria and marine fungi are available. Compound libraries of marine natural products, even of highly purified substances, were established. The expectations into the commercial exploitation of marine microbial resources has given rise to numerous institutions worldwide, basic research facilities as well as companies. In Europe, recent activities have initiated a dynamic development in marine biotechnology, though concentrated efforts on marine natural product research are rare. One of these activities is represented by the Kieler Wirkstoff-Zentrum KiWiZ, which was founded in 2005 in Kiel (Germany).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aquatic Organisms / chemistry*
  • Aquatic Organisms / metabolism
  • Bacteria / chemistry*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Products / chemistry*
  • Biological Products / isolation & purification
  • Biotechnology*
  • Fungi / chemistry*
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Water Microbiology


  • Biological Products