This SBIR Phase I project applies biomedical principles and practices to the lucrative, but poorly understood process of pearl culture. Despite the value of the world pearl industry (around US$3 billion per annum), it is still based on turn-of-the-century technology. The Pearl Development Group addresses this immense opportunity by bringing together a unique consortium of pearl seeding technicians, farmers, biologists, entrepreneurs and biomedical scientists. Their collective efforts are focussed on using rigorous scientific methods with state-of-the-art biotechnology to improve pearl production. Preliminary trials by PDG reveal two areas of particular promise with the pearl seeding operation. Firstly, improved sterility from use of antibiotics or sealants to reduce the risk of post-operative infection; and secondly, cellular adhesion protein coatings on the nucleus to improve pearl sac formation. Both could result in more pearls, of better quality. These improvements could have a compounding effect, as better yields result in more oysters being subsequently reseeded. Sealants may also allow technicians to insert larger nuclei, resulting in geometrical increases in value of successive pearls. These innovations will be tested on a large scale on our farm, and evaluated by comparing post-seed rejection rates and early assays of pearl sac growth and pearl formation. If successful, these technologies could be marketable to other pearl farms worldwide, through established farm suppliers, as well as leading to increased profitability for our subsidiary and partner farms. Slight improvements in the pearl seeding operation can dramatically improve farm profitability. For our Majuro farm model, production improvements of, say, 35% yield revenue increases of $1.1 million for minimal added costs. The price margin on these products might then be $10 per seeding operation. Extrapolated to the Tahitian pearl industry alone, this is a value-added of over $42 million p.a.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
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George B. Vermont
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Black Pearls Inc
United States
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