Chinese agribusiness invests in SA biotech

GLOBAL Chinese agribusiness Shandong Tianjiu Industrial Group has entered into a three-year $1 million joint research agreement with South Australian institution Flinders University to expand a world-class microalgae and related advanced marine bioproduct development centre.

The research collaboration will focus on identifying new products and developing novel, energy-efficient advanced manufacturing technologies to increase applications, yields and purity of high-value marine bioproducts for functional foods in the premium export market.

Shandong Tianjiu Industrial Group manages more than 7000 hectares of intensive commercial farming, has a workforce of more than 800, and annual global sales of more than $A220 million. Its biotech subsidiary produces more than 500 tonnes of plant product extracts a year, including yam flour, malt extract and a popular certified non-dairy creamer.

Tianjiu is also one of the largest manufacturers of plant-derived functional peptides from food crops such as soybean, corn and peas.  These plant extracts have a wide range of applications in the health food and nutritional supplement industries, beverage and baking sectors, as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2014, Flinders University partnered with Chinese company Gather Great Ocean Group (GGOG) to establish an Advanced Macroalgae Biotechnology Joint Laboratory at Flinders University in Adelaide and in Qingdao, China.

Professor Wei Zhang, director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development at Flinders, said the Shandong Tianjiu group-Flinders University joint investment was the first phase of investment and could expand in future.

“South Australia’s clean marine environment is very highly regarded in Asia,” Prof Zhang said.

“We are delighted to partner with this large agricultural, food and biotech processing company which is investing heavily in innovation and has already invested millions in R&D, developing food supplements or functional bioproducts and improved pharmaceuticals from plant extracts, fermentation and biotech polypeptide technology.

“Developing high-value marine biotech for advanced food manufacturing will add to Australia’s growing marine ‘blue economy’ which is forecast to grow to more than $100 billion by 2025.

South Australia is considered a world leader in clean green premium seafood and has large stocks of southern Bluefin tuna, abalone, oysters and southern rock lobster.