HONG KONG - Researchers at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have uncovered a century-old mystery on marine benthos organisms, which has resulted in the development of non-toxic anti-fouling coatings that could help the shipping industry save fuel consumption. The discovery also opens the gateway for future studies that could remap the marine ecosystem.


Professor Qian, Chair Professor of the Division of Life Science, won a second-class honor of the prestigious 2016 Natural Science Award from the State Council, for his discovery of biofilm’s impact on the initial colonization of marine benthos – organisms that live on or near the seabed such as corals and shells.

For years, scientists focused on how environmental changes affect marine benthos, but most have overlooked the bridging function of biofilm for the environment and the benthic life. Peiyuan’s pioneering study has found that upon searching for a place of settlement, the larvae of benthic marine life responds largely to the chemical signals discharged by the biofilm, instead of directly to the environment. By manipulating these chemical signals, one can settle organisms like coral, abalones and shells, in less polluted areas to ensure their healthy growth and save endangered species from extinction, tipping the marine ecosystem back to balance.

“Our findings provide important background for the sustainable development of marine resources,” Peiyuan said. “It also points out the possible trend of changes in marine ecosystems due to global climate changes.”

Peiyuan also found a new and non-toxic solution for biofouling with his finding. For years, ship liners and navy troops have relied on anti-fouling agents to fight the hull-attaching organisms, but they are harmful to marine life. Prof Qian has obtained 12 patents so far for his new anti-fouling coatings, which are not only proven as effective as traditional ones, but are much greener alternatives as it is developed with natural chemicals from the biofilm.