The Oman Centre for Marine Biotechnology (OCMB), a joint venture of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) and the Oman Authority for Partnership for Development (OAPFD), has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to support the domestic cultivation of algae — a source of commercially valuable nutrients and nanomaterial for the hugely lucrative marine biotechnology industry.
The pact was inked with the Swedish Algae Factory, a Gothenburg based start-up credited with pioneering the cultivation of microscopic algal species, called diatoms, to produce nutrients for the cosmetic industry, as well as nanomaterial for enhancing the efficiency of solar panels, and organic biomass for sustainably produced feed and fertilizers.
Signing on behalf of OCMB, which is based at dedicated facilities at the SQU, was its Chief Executive Officer, Prof Bassam Soussi, while the Swedish Algae Factory was represented by one of its founders, Prof Angela Wulff of the University of Gothenburg. The signing took place during the inaugural session of a conference spotlighting the theme, ‘Frontiers in Marine Biotechnology’, which was held at the Grand Hyatt Muscat yesterday.
In remarks to the Observer, OCMB Chief Executive Officer Prof Soussi said: “We signed the MoU with the Swedish Algae Factory to start working on the cultivation and development of micro algae in Oman using some of our own research results and some of their techniques. The Swedish facility has been very successful in developing superior techniques for cultivation and refining, while we have some algae strains that are interesting for cultivation and development. The objective is to together spark the R&D phase and later take it to commercialisation.”
Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) has a 90 per cent stake in the Oman Centre for Marine Biotechnology, which has the mandate to establish a premier commercially operated marine biotechnology R&D facility in the region. The balance 10 per cent stake is held by OAPFD. High-tech facilities for the Centre will be financed by Airbus Helicopters as part of its offset commitments.
As the hub of a future marine biotechnology industry in the Sultanate, the OCMB initiative is set to make a significant contribution to Oman’s economic diversification and long-term development. “The success of this initiative will not only benefit the university and the offset authority, but the entire nation as well. The benefit will be long-term, helping diversify the income resources of the country, raising the GDP, and creating more jobs and socioeconomic growth.”
Prof Angela Wulff, who was instrumental in setting up the Swedish Algae Factory, said she hoped the MoU would help in the replication of the diatoms-based algae cultivation facility here in the Sultanate.
“We hope we can use our knowhow to help OCMB and other partners here to set up a similar company to grow diatoms here. We want to take our set-up in Sweden and set it up here as a pilot. If it works, it can develop into an industry for the cultivation of algae from Omani species. This is a very lucrative industry,” she said.