Biotech at the beach

What is biotechnology? Biotechnology is the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make useful products. The foundation of biotechnology is based on an understanding of cells, proteins and genes. We use biotechnology to grow our food, make medicine and vaccines, and to find alternative sources of fuel.

There’s groundbreaking biotechnology research afoot in Wilmington, right outside of Monkey Junction off Masonboro Loop Rd. Follow Marvin K. Moss Lane to the end and you will find a complex of impressive-looking buildings on the Intracoastal Waterway, one still under construction.
You have entered UNCW’s Crest Research Park, a place for university researchers, private firms and government agencies to work together to create biotechnology products and solutions. Here are the UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) Building, Marine Science Operations Facility and the Experimental Shellfish Hatchery.

And this is the home of the MARBIONC (Marine Biology Technology in North Carolina) building, which will house MARBIONC Development Group LLC, a non-profit launched in 2005. The group plans to “stimulate economic development in North Carolina through the discovery, development and marketing of new products and technologies derived from living organisms found in the sea.”

The concept behind MARBIONC Development Group is to develop new marine-based products and technologies that lead to new industries and augment existing industries, and to increase the trained workforce via educational programs offered at UNCW. They are the lead tenant in the MARBIONC Building scheduled to open in spring of 2013.

The $30 million business venture is funded from federal and state money, which includes the State of North Carolina, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Sea Grant, Centers for Disease Control and a recurring $2 million thanks in part to N.C. State Representative Danny McComas.

MARBIONC Development Group will occupy 30 percent of the MARBIONC building, while other partners will occupy an additional 30 percent and the remainder will be common areas. The green building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver-certified and offers flexible modular lab space for lease.

Daniel G. Baden, Ph.D., is a William R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Marine Science, and the director of the Center for Marine Science, which is the administrator of MARBIONC Development Group.

“There have been close to 20 prospective partners from the U.S. and other countries who have expressed interest in leasing laboratory space in the MARBIONC Building,” Baden says. “Ultimately, if they don’t fit here, we will find a place for them in North Carolina.”

Crest Research Park and the work being done there is not very well known in Wilmington.

“We want not to be the best-kept secret in Wilmington,” Baden says. He hopes the community of retired talent in Wilmington

will help spread the word about the research being done at the Crest facilities.

“There are extremely talented seniors in southeastern North Carolina and we ask that they reach out to entities they may have worked for to let them know about us,” Baden says. He believes that having discussions in the biotechnical community about the research and facilities can help attract the type of tenant who could benefit from this cutting-edge laboratory facility.

Educational opportunities

Education is an integral part of the MARBIONC concept. One of the educational programs offered at UNCW is a post-doctoral program in the business of biology. This program started in 2005 and offers postdoctoral fellows the chance to work on research in marine biotechnology while getting their MBA at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business.

Leeanne C. Bruin, M.B.A., is the coordinator of business operations for CMS and part of MARBIONC team. A graduate of Cameron School of Business and a Wilmington native, she is an example of one of the missions of UNCW and MARBIONC: “To create high-tech, high-pay, clean employment opportunities for residents of our area.”

Instead of educating and then losing potential employees in the biotech field to companies outside of our area, future employees will get their education through UNCW, then have an opportunity to work at the MARBIONC building, thus keeping the talent at home.

Educational opportunities for budding marine scientists are also offered through UNCW’s Center for Marine Science and Watson College of Education at the Crest Research Park site. The Marine Quest summer program for grades K-12 is the official marine science outreach program for UNCW, and Marine Quest offers more than 30 curriculum programs for young learners.

We come from the sea, and the researchers at UNCW’s Crest Research Park believe that the answers to earth’s pressing problems with food, medicine and fuel may be found there.


By René Leister, LOL Team Writer