Dr Samantha Law considers the important role of culture collections around the world on International Microorganism Day
17 September is International Microorganisms Day, because on this day in 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society about his teeth being the home to “many very little animalcules”.
The understanding of these ‘animacules’ and their importance to every aspect of our lives has come a long way since then. Culture collections around the world have played a pivotal role in supporting microbiological research, collaborating, and working together to ensure that the precious genetic resources in their care are available for generations of scientists to come. For example, many strains are stored in two or more public culture collections, as it makes the strains widely available, and also acts as a back-up. This is good practice to insure against the risk of contamination or loss of viability. The overlap may have arisen because the person that first isolated the strain deposited it in more than one collection, but sometimes culture collections share strains too. Particularly important when you remember that culture collections are required to preserve and maintain cultures for decades – or even centuries!
After all, culture collections like NCIMB were preserving and storing strains before the structure of DNA was fully understood or sequencing was widely available. The scientists who made these deposits could not have known all of the potential applications that the strains they were working with might have. This means that there is still a huge amount of untapped potential within culture collections.
One of the really interesting areas that has been developing in recent years is the microbiome, and culture collections have an important role to play in supporting research on this topic.
Culture collection curators from different collections regularly meet in forums to discuss shared issues and opportunities. For example, within the UK the UK Biological Resource Centre Network (UKBRCN) was established to foster collaborative links between the biological resource community. It meets regularly throughout the year, sharing best practice and giving members an opportunity to work together to coordinate engagement with stakeholders and raise awareness of the work they do.
Within Europe, the European Culture Collections Organisation (ECCO) was established with the aim of promoting collaboration and exchange of ideas and information. It meets annually providing a valuable forum for discussion and innovation on the future development of member collection activities, and the next meeting will be held online later this month.
We are really looking forward to taking part in this year’s ECCO meeting, which is being hosted by Public Health England Culture Collections, and we are delighted to be sponsoring, and chairing some of the sessions which include:
- the role, validation and use of culture collections
- access and benefit sharing
- contributions to research and collaborative projects
- microbiomes and the challenges of microbiome biobank development
- the need for quality, safety, biosecurity and transportation standards
- advances in bioinformatics and data management
In addition, our NGS Services Manager, Dr Daniel Swan, will be talking about his involvement with the UK’s Microbiome Innovation Network, and discussing how culture collections can develop “next-generation” biobanking capacity – to describe, store and innovate from collected microbial consortia. It is a complex are that will require the integration of domain expertise, extensive biospecimen collections, high-throughput laboratory approaches, genomics and metabolomics, and microbiome data standards.
It will be a new challenge for culture collections, but one that we are very excited to embrace!