The future’s bright, the future’s blue (and quite green…)

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MarineBiotech-BookCoverresize-Springer Handbook of Marine Biotechnology. Edited by Se-Kwon Kim. Springer, 2015.

Why is a botanist reviewing a handbook on marine biotechnology? For the same reason that this botanist also leads the marine biology module at his institution: Because that watery realm is driven by what photosynthetic organisms do, whether that be ‘swamps’ of mangal, ‘meadows’ of seagrass, ‘forests’ of kelp, floating expanses of open ocean fuelled by phytoplankton, or warm water coral reefs (whose enormous chalky constructions are only possible thanks to an endosymbiotic relationship between a miniature sea anemone-like creature and an alga…)! A botanist’s involvement in the marine environment is therefore legitimate and an interest in biotechnological potential of that habitat entirely understandable. So, what does this phytologist make of Kim’s edited Handbook of Marine Biotechnology [hereafter referred to as Marine Biotech] (14 of which tome’s 66 chapters deal explicitly with marine photoautotrophs and their biotechnological potential *…)?

As a Springer Handbook, one of Marine Biotech‘s key aims is “to be useful as readable desk reference book to give a fast and comprehensive overview and easy retrieval of essential reliable key information, including tables, graphs, and bibliographies.” As an educator, access to that sort of information can only help my teaching. I’m pleased to say that Marine Biotech – with its 580 Figures (many in colour) and 181 Tables – ‘ticks that particular box’, and provides >1520 pages of up-to-date commentary on the current state of play of this important aspect of marine exploitation potential. Don’t be put off at the start of the book by its daunting 13 pages of 2-columned List of Abbreviations(!), but do be impressed by its >20 pages of 3-columned Index, and the fact that each chapter has a good list of up-to-date references (for follow-up reading) and – which is so nice to see from a teaching point of view – that those sources are cited within the text.

Marine Biotech’s pedagogical potential is clear from the start. Chapter 1 “Introduction to marine biotechnology” is 10 pages of scene-setting introduction to the topic and the rest of the book (and would make an excellent stand-alone lecture on the subject!). But the book doesn’t stop there – you’d be very disappointed if it did (although each chapter is available for individual purchase from Springer…)! The remainder of Marine Biotech is arranged in 10 sections (A – J), which deal with as many different aspects of marine biotechnology as any generalist – such as this reviewer – needs, and is probably equally useful in covering topics outside of one’s specialist area for marine biotechnological practitioners.

Thus, Marine Biotech delivers important information about marine flora and fauna (primarily Section A – although fauna here is principally corals (half flora anyway?) and sponges, flora is fungi, viruses, and three chapters on algae(!), and Section E –  marine microbiology, and marine actinomycetes); biotechnological methods (Section B including bioprocess engineering, bioinformatics techniques, bioreactors, and transgenic technology; metagenomics, proteomics, and genome mining in Section C; and Section D on algal biotechnology); product development (e.g. marine-derived metabolites in Section F; pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals (yes, there is such a thing!) in Section G);  biomedical applications (Section I including marine biomaterials, biosensors, nanoparticle synthesis, and biomineralisation), and industrial applications (e.g. bioenergy and biofuels in Section H, and mussel-derived bioadhesives, and silicon biotechnology in Section J).

All-in-all, Marine Biotech boasts a most impressive selection that ranges from the history and development of the subject, to present-day concerns with topical topics, and to numerous future applications. It’s an area of endeavour that stretches Man’s imagination and technological ingenuity in seeking out new exploitation opportunities as more marine biotic marvels are being discovered every year and one is constantly wondering “what will they think of next?”. In such a fast-moving area it is hard to keep on top of events. It is therefore important to have books such as Marine Biotech to present the drawing together of information about specific research to give the non-specialist that necessary topical overview and updating. And, from the perspective of one who seeks to inform and enthuse the next generation of marine biology-literate students (yes, with appropriate appreciation of the contribution of photosynthesisers therein!), Marine Biotech works for me.

However, amidst all this enthusiasm for Marine Biotech, I feel I a note of caution is needed. A cursory glance at publishers’ websites will demonstrate a veritable tsunami of books about marine biotechnology. So there is potentially a lot of competition out there for Marine Biotech, not least of which are many tomes authored or edited by Se-Kwon Kim himself. Quite how his Springer contribution will fare against those is not for me to speculate, but one assumes the publisher has done his/her homework in that regard. Interestingly, a major clash might be predicted between Marine Biotech and Springer’s 2015 volume in the Methods in Molecular Biology Series “Natural Products From Marine Algae: Methods and Protocols” edited by Dagmar Stengel and Solène Connan. However, since the latter tome is more methodologically-based, it may be better considered a companion volume to, rather than a competitor of, Marine Biotech.

 

Summary

This item began with an attempt at a justification of why a botanist might be interested in marine biotechnology. I hope I made that clearly. And as that person who’s been looking around for a one-stop source of material for my lecture session on that very topic, I intend looking no further (for the next few years at least…); Springer’s Handbook of Marine Biotechnology delivers the goods for me – and my students. And in a nicely colourful way many of these technologies newly-emerging from Earth’s blue realm are remarkably ‘green’ indeed. Not that that necessarily means that the planet is safe in the hands of marine biotechnologists, but at least they seem intent on playing their part in a more environmentally-aware, sustainable future for the planet (assuming they don’t over-exploit the ocean’s biological riches in their quest for biotechnical progress…).

 

* And of necessity having to deal with non-photosynthetic members of the marine biota, the book’s remaining 54 chapters will be equally handy in delivering examples of the latest biotechnological innovations and inspirations from those organisms and their products.


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