by Kevin McCluskey, PhD
Curator, Fungal Genetics Stock Center at Kansas State University
Capitalizing on the success of several earlier meetings and workshops, US Culture Collection Network (USCCN) scientists discussed backups, succession planning, and orphaned or endangered collections at an October 13 – 14, 2015 meeting at the US Department of Agriculture National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (USDA NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado. With representatives from 19 different living microbe collections as well as a living plant biodiversity collection and the only ex situ living lemur collection, this meeting showcased the similar challenges and opportunities faced by research collections of living organisms of every scale. Sponsored by a research coordination network (RCN) grant (DBI 1203112) from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) for “a community of ex situ microbial germplasm repositories” this group has allowed collection scientists to visit peer collections at a scale never before possible in the US.
With outreach activities that included high-school students from a career showcase in Kansas City, Missouri and senior citizens from a Café Scientifique from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, the meeting emphasized engaging diverse communities. The participants at the USDA NCGRP meeting included representatives from collections of plant pathogenic bacteria and fungi, environmental yeasts including type strains, genetically characterized (and modified fungi), E. coli, three algal collections, and smaller collections of tree pathogens, wood-staining fungi, and insect pathogens. The success of the living microbe collections through RCN funding attracted participation from a number of researchers from the Montgomery Botanic Garden and the Duke Lemur Center with the long term goal of promoting cross-organism collaboration.
“Overall, the meeting reassured collection scientists that they were working toward shared goals, although often in isolation. Coming together…serves as a reminder that there are strong currents that support the effort to preserve living research materials.”
Participants were welcomed to the USDA NCGRP and enjoyed tours of the world-class storage and cryopreservation facilities (see below). Presentations by USDA staff included the impact of genetic bottlenecks by Chris Richards and preservation technology for long term maintenance of biodiversity by Christine Walters. Jan Leach of Colorado State University presented a keynote lecture on the Phytobiomes initiative which seeks to promote understanding of interactions at all trophic levels to promote sustainable intensification of agricultural production. Emphasizing the diversity of collections at Colorado State, Barbara Johnson of the CDC gave a presentation on the CDC Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases arbovirus collection.
Because the challenges faced by US living microbe collections are shared by collections around the world, participants from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) in the UK and from the University of Alberta Microfungus Herbarium (UAMH) collection in Canada presented on their activities. CABI is a global leader in international microbial resource utilization and curator Matthew Ryan described their response to the Nagoya protocol. James Scott described the pending re-location of the UAMH collection to Toronto against the backdrop of collection statuses in Canada and elsewhere. Overall, the meeting reassured collection scientists that they were working toward shared goals, although often in isolation. Coming together at a facility like the NCGRP serves as a reminder that there are strong currents that support the effort to preserve living research materials. Emphasizing the importance of long term preservation of valuable resources, the USDA NCGRP has begun off-site backup of microbial collections and already thirteen collections have backed up their materials there with over 33,000 strains in liquid nitrogen vapor or -80.
More info and upcoming event
The USCCN website includes program materials from prior meetings (www.usccn.org) and is the focus for planning of future activities including educational activities and a planned US Culture Collection Summit to be held in the Washington DC area in fall 2016.