SAN DIEGO—The University of California, San Diego, and its affiliate, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, are planning a new center that will combine the basic research skills of Scripps investigators with the medical talents of the university’s school of medicine to unlock the secrets of sea life.

The UCSD-Scripps project—details of which are still being worked out—is the latest of several efforts in recent months by institutions intent on forging ahead with new marine biomedical research centers in the hope of broadening their knowledge of the sea as well as discovering substances that will improve the human condition and, where possible, prove commercially viable.

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Mass., for example, is preparing to break ground for a new laboratory to expand its scientific program and a second facility to culture sea life.. Its emphasis, as befits its 102-year history, is to promote scientific inquiry. But...

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