The future, in all its tantalizing possibility, came calling Tuesday along the city's Inner Harbor, as the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute formally opened its new research facility on the nation's most historic waterfront.
The celebratory event, which drew Gov. Charlie Baker and a wide swath of state and local officials, was the final punctuation in GMGI's long-standing pledge to carve out a Gloucester waterfront facility to produce world-class marine genomics science and biotechnology research.
But more than that, the research facility, with its staggering array of state-of-the-art technology and an end-to-end view of the harbor's working North Channel, offers the first true sense of Gloucester's transformation into a sustainable fishing-rich community with its boots firmly planted in the 21st century.
And perhaps, if the stars align, the GMGI research facility could provide the first spoke of a true biotech hub in Gloucester and a standing element in the region's much coveted "blue economy," Baker said.
"There is no question that the water, the ocean and marine science runs through the veins and DNA of the people in this community," Baker told the more than 100 assembled guests in a large tent erected in the facility parking lot, with the Everett R. Jodrey State Pier across the water as a backdrop. "We see this as an opportunity to turbocharge the whole direction of the conversation marine science is heading in. We try to help communities build on their strengths. This is a perfect project for this community."
The research facility is the newest element in the GMGI constellation, joining its Gloucester Biotechnology Academy that opened in 2016 at 55 Great Republic Drive in the Blackburn Industrial Park.
The academy has graduated two classes of students into the biotech workforce and is in the midst of matriculating its Class of 2019 — many of its members were at Tuesday's event, decked out in their white lab coats.
"I think it's just amazing what we've accomplished in the past five years," GMGI Chairwoman Michelle May said Tuesday as she stood outside one the facility's imaging labs. "But I really like to look forward and I'm really excited by the possibilities. I think the research that will come out of here will be groundbreaking and, more importantly, beneficial to human health. It will be important science that helps humanity."
GMGI occupies about 6,000 square feet throughout the entire ground floor of the two-story, 18,500 square-foot facility built by Windover Construction at the 417 Main St. site. The site is owned by entrepreneur Sheree Zizik — one of GMGI's four founders — and New Balance Chairman James Davis through their Back Shore LLC real estate company.
The facility, significantly supported by a $2.7 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Science Center, features a series of laboratories, including a bioformatics lab, a microbe lab, a marine life research room, a DNA sequencing lab with two sequencers and a robot, an imaging lab and a molecular biology lab.
"This really is the beginning of marine research on Gloucester Harbor," said David R. Walt, another GMGI founder, as well as the scientific founder of Illumina Inc., a world leader in genomics analysis. He also serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.
The building also includes freezers for storing samples, conference rooms and administrative work stations. The walls are full of huge, wildly colorful fish-themed pieces on loan from local artists Paul Cary Goldberg and Jon Sarkin.
"We have amazing capabilities to do really important work here," said Andrea Bodnar, GMGI's science director. "We're all very excited to get started."
The facility supports six marine science researchers and a four-person administrative staff. Bodnar said GMGI envisions a staff of 20 — including 15 researchers — by 2020.
"This one of the most extraordinary facilities in marine science, one that presents an extraordinary opportunity to bring together big data and align it with science," said Travis McCready, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Life Science Center. "Very rarely do we have so much community-based involvement in one of our life science projects. You're hitting all the high notes here. You should be very proud."
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.