Is your research at risk? Best practice in maintenance, preservation and storage

Best practice in maintenance, preservation and storage should be a central part of any research project that involves the use of microbial cultures that would be difficult to replace, but this is not always the case.  Contamination of cultures and genetic drift can easily occur, especially when strains are being used for long-term programmes of work – it is all too easy to lose track of how many times your strain has been cultured since it was originally isolated.

It’s not just contamination and strain drift that can cause issues for microbiologists. Fire, natural disasters, power failure and human error can all impact on the normal operations of your facility. While these things might be rare occurrences, a blaze at a UK university last year highlighted just how devastating that kind of disaster can be. Reports at the time described personnel entering the dark, flooded building to retrieve freezers in order to save the biological material stored within them. While in this case researchers did retrieve much of their material, it could have so easily have been lost. If you are working with strains that you have purchased from a culture collection like NCIMB, in this kind of disastrous situation, you can always buy another ampoule. If, however, you are working with strains that you have isolated yourself or obtained in some other way that means they would be difficult to replace, loss of a strain could set your research programme back months or even years, so it makes sense to take greater care and minimize that risk.

A few easy additional steps can ensure that the integrity of your strain is maintained, and that you always have pure cultures at your fingertips.  So, what are the steps you should be taking? When you receive or isolate a strain, one of the first things that you should do is preserve multiple copies of it for long term storage. This might not be possible for all kinds of biological material, but luckily, for many microorganisms it is easy to do.

Long term storage has many benefits – it maintains the integrity of the original sample and it ensures that the strain will remain viable for a significant period of time.  Contamination is an ever-present hazard for microbiologists and long-term storage gives you a bank of reliable spares should this happen to you, or your working stocks are no longer viable.

Once you have prepared your multiple copies for long term storage, it is a good idea to store them in more than one location to protect against things like fire and local power failures.  At NCIMB, as a national reference collection, it is essential that we follow best practice to ensure that the strains placed in our care are available for future generations of scientists to access and work with and consequently we have an off-site back-up of our culture collection. We also provide a safe deposit service for researchers in both industry and academia, that allows them to store a back-up of their important biological material off site.  It’s a simple and low-cost process that not only protects your strains but can also speed up the process of depositing in the culture collection for publication purposes or making a patent deposit when you are ready to do so.

If you would like to benefit from our safe deposit service, we accept ampoules or cryovials ready for immediate storage. Alternatively, you can send cultures as slopes, plates or broths and we can preserve them for you prior to storage.

If you’d like to know more about our safe deposit service please drop us an email: or give us a call:  +44 1224 009333.