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Coral colonies at Scott Reef, Western Australia. Image: Andrew Heyward.

A huge step forward in understanding the nature of Western Australian marine biodiversity and facilitating sustainable use of it was marked in March 2009 with the opening of the state's first Marine Bioresources Library, known as WAMBL.

WAMBL has been established by AIMS and the WA Museum with start up funding from the Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI). The new library will facilitate access to WA's marine biodiversity for biodiscovery research that could lead to new medicines from the sea.

It also has heritage significance in that it represents a repository of marine genetic diversity that will be used on Census of Marine Life and Ocean Genome Legacy research programs.

WAMBL is one of only three biodiversity libraries in Australia, with the other two based in Queensland (at AIMS' Townsville headquarters and Griffith University) and is the first in Australia to be open for state and national access. It will enable timely and co-ordinated access to samples with full legal compliance. AIMS' Bioresources procedures, database and policies were instrumental in establishing WAMBL.

WAMBL has been populated by AIMS bioresources samples previously collected from the WA region (approximately 1,000 specimens initially), as well as samples from other more recent AIMS collaborative projects in WAMSI. The first biodiscovery project using WAMBL resources is a screening program based at the Western Australian Medical Institute of Research, focusing on breast cancer.

The Library contains frozen samples taken from sponges and other WA marine species and is being professionally curated by WA Museum experts.

Extracts will be available for use by state, national and international organisations to provide new research opportunities for industry. Early research has shown that marine organisms from WA have a high incidence of medicinally relevant bioactive compounds.

The establishment of this Library will assist in:

  • Storage of marine biodiversity extracts;

  • Creating a repository of marine genetic diversity;

  • Creating an inventory of marine frozen samples for the library;

  • Creating a georeferenced biodiversity database;

  • Delivering samples to two WAMSI screening partners;

  • Providing a central point for marine specimens curated elsewhere;

  • Collating AIMS and WAMSI specimens into WA Museum's repository;

  • Identifying valuable compounds from marine biodiversity;

  • Enhancing marine, microbial, chemical and biomedicinal sciences;

  • Using marine samples in screening programs targeting breast cancer;

  • Producing marine natural products, including anti-cancer and anti-bacterial agents;

  • Reviewing industry interests for economically sustainable generation of biomaterials and by-products derived from marine organisms; and

  • Encouraging the introduction of WA biotechnology legislation to improve biodiscovery research investment and exploration prospects.