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A scoping study of specimen archiving activity in the UK and the potential for a UK Environmental Specimen Bank

By J.S. Chaplow, L.A. Walker, C.J. MacKechnie and R.F. Shore

Abstract

There are numerous monitoring and experimental research studies in the UK that involve\ud collection and archiving of environmental specimens. As part of the current project, we have\ud estimated the cost of these activities to be approximately £16 million per year. However,\ud there is no current UK-wide strategic coordination of this investment. Although the United\ud Kingdom Environmental Observation Framework (UK-EOF) catalogues environmental\ud observations made for and by the UK, it does not currently catalogue specimen collection.\ud This report describes a short study to: (i) gather information on current specimen collection\ud and archiving in the UK; (ii) determine what information on this activity can be incorporated\ud into the UK-EOF Environmental Observation Activity Catalogue (UK-EOF Catalogue), (iii)\ud investigate the potential for a UK Environmental Specimen Bank (UK-ESB) that would\ud provide links and strategic coordination between different collections. This study focused on\ud environmental specimens, largely biological and geological samples, but excluding medical\ud specimens.\ud The current study provides what, as far as we are aware, is the first collated information on\ud current UK collection and archiving of environmental specimens. We surveyed 42\ud organisations that, from their UK-EOF Catalogue entries, appeared to collect/archive\ud environmental samples. We subsequently identified 28 archives or distinct groups that archive\ud one or more type of specimen. The size and breadth of archives range from specimens kept\ud by individuals at home to large museum collections. Many types of specimens are archived\ud and include terrestrial, freshwater and marine biota (including DNA extracts), soils/sediments\ud and geological samples. Collecting schemes usually archive their own samples and sometimes\ud those collected by others, and use facilities that range from stand-alone domestic freezers to\ud purpose built complexes. Sample preservation techniques are similarly diverse and include\ud fresh, frozen, dried and fixed (in preservative) storage; methods are dictated by the purpose of\ud the archive and the nature of the samples. Collections have been stored for between 5 and\ud 200 years and, typically, plan to retain samples indefinitely or have ‗no time limit‘ for\ud retention. Most collections do not have spare capacity to accommodate other samples; those\ud that do tend to be existing specimen banks and museums. Archives have electronic and paper\ud catalogues of some sort and often have both as they retain historic (pre-electronic) records.\ud A UK-ESB would be a national partnership between holders of UK environmental specimens.\ud It would be designed to promote knowledge, and subsequent scientific use, of archived\ud specimens of national importance. A UK-ESB would facilitate delivery of world-class\ud environmental science, particularly the detection and characterisation of patterns and rate of\ud environmental change and the emergence and progression of environmental hazards and risks.\ud A UK-ESB would link nationally valuable specimen holdings, encourage the sharing of data,\ud samples and facilities and promote best practice. It could also facilitate strategic links with\ud other types of specimen banks (human, DNA banks etc) and associated data. Overall, it\ud would help maximise the benefits gained from the current disparate UK investment in\ud archiving environmental specimens.\ud The outputs from the workshop conducted as part of the current project were:\ud metadata fields describing archiving activities that could be incorporated or linked to the\ud EOAC\ud 3\ud a synthesis of the benefits of a UK-ESB. Overall, the workshop considered that a UKESB\ud would deliver benefits both scientifically and to policymakers/regulators by\ud improving current capability to monitor the health of the natural environment\ud “buy-in” to the concept of a UK-ESB. Thus, the workshop has developed a consortium\ud of stakeholders upon which to base development of the UK-ESB\ud recommendations on the models by which a UK-ESB could be developed and operate,\ud and the next steps needed to achieve this\ud Recommendations:\ud 1. In the short term, develop a ―virtual UK-ESB‖ that includes a dedicated website\ud to link different archives, and develop a database of standardised metadata\ud describing UK archive holdings. This database would promote better knowledge\ud of specimen archives that can be used to address pressing environmental issues.\ud A virtual-ESB would not require changes to current archive or access practices. It\ud would yield significant benefits rapidly and require only modest resources.\ud 2. In the medium term, develop a ―federated UK-ESB‖ that would build on and\ud incorporate the benefits and attributes of the virtual model. It would have a\ud steering group to oversee the development of strategic management and\ud sustainable business plans. Such plans are likely to include: establishment of\ud global links with other national ESBs; development of best practice (potentially\ud accredited to international quality standards); agreed principles of access to and\ud use of samples by the wider research community; avoidance of duplication of\ud collection; identification of strategically important gaps in archive holdings;\ud support for/rescue of valuable ―at risk‖ specimens; securing long-term funding,\ud defining and developing metrics to measure value and impact.\ud Next steps:\ud 1. Establish a ―champion‖ to develop next steps\ud 2. Obtain funding/resources to develop a metadata catalogue, a virtual ―UK-ESB‖\ud and business and strategy plans to move to a ―federated‖ model\ud 3. Develop and populate a metadata catalogue for national specimen collections\ud that links or is incorporated into the UK-EOF Catalogue\ud 4. Construct and populate a UK-ESB website\ud 5. Manage and maintain the website/catalogue\ud 6. Develop funding model for a ―federated UK-ESB‖\ud 7. Develop a ―federated UK-ESB‖\ud A ―Virtual‖ UK-ESB would require relatively modest investment but achieve rapid gains,\ud including an on-line searchable database of metadata for UK archives. It would also provide\ud a springboard to the more pro-active ―Federated‖ UK-ESB model. Such a federated model\ud would be strategic in outlook and provide the impetus for wider ranging initiatives, such as\ud collaborations with human specimen archives (to link environment with human health) and\ud with cryo-bank initiatives that address biodiversity loss. A federated UK-ESB would provide\ud significant National Capability to underpin key UK science areas

Topics: Ecology and Environment, Data and Information
Publisher: NERC/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:nora.nerc.ac.uk:9806

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