Study in Progress

Biological Collections: Their Past, Present, and Future Contributions and Options for Sustaining Them

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Statement of Task

An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will review the role of biological collections in research and education that are supported by the National Science Foundation and develop a set of options for their future maintenance to enable their continued use to benefit science and society. For this task, biological collections are defined as living stocks (organisms) and preserved repositories of biodiversity specimens and materials. The committee will review the past and present contributions of biological collections to research and education, describe the major advances in their use over the last decade, and envision future innovative ways in which biological collections can be utilized to further advance science over the next decade. The committee will also describe the greatest challenges to maintaining biological collections and suggest a range of long-term strategies that could be used for their sustained support, individually or in groups, of research and education. In particular the committee will:

1. Examine the past and present contributions of biological collections of all sizes and across institution types to research and education, including new types of collections and research resources that users have derived through new technologies.

2. Describe how the quality, format, and accessibility of digitized data impact the use of biological collections for research and education. Examine whether the investments by the National Science Foundation and other U.S. federal agencies in digital data and metadata have been integrated with common standards that support increased accessibility, and recommend strategies to achieve such integration.

3. Describe potential future innovative applications of biological collections to advance research over the next decade, and outline strategies to facilitate the use of collections to open new avenues of inquiry and address issues of broad societal importance, such as global environmental change, food security, conservation, and the bioeconomy.

4. Highlight how project-based collections resulting from individual research funded projects might be identified and preserved. Address challenges of how project-based collections (i.e. those maintained by individual researchers or labs) are accessioned into archival collections maintained by institutions as a generation of active researchers reach retirement.

5. Outline critical challenges to and needs for the use and maintenance of biological collections for research and education including:

a. scientific and technical capabilities
b. tools and technologies
c. facilities (e.g., space)
d. personnel with required expertise
e. sustainable financial resources

6. Describe the quality control challenges for living stock collections of microbes, vertebrates, model plants (e.g., Arabidopsis), etc. for which consistent genetic identity is crucial for research, and consider how these challenges could be addressed.

7. Examine current efforts to sustain biodiversity and living stocks collections, from small and specialized to large and endowed collections, and recommend a range of options for how to address the issue of financial sustainability.

8. Describe best practices and metrics that will enable institutions with biological collections to monitor, assess, and modify the value and impact of their collections and their strategies to facilitate their continued use for research and education.

The committee will produce a consensus report addressing these points.