By John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.
From World Museum’s founding collection of study skins and taxidermy mounts bequeathed by the 13th Earl of Derby to the spirit-preserved amphibians collected by curator Malcolm Largen in the 1980s, World Museum’s Vertebrate Zoology collection has continued to expand and reflect the state-of-the-art in specimen preparation and storage.
As ethics around the sacrifice of animals for science have modernised, ‘traditional’ specimen types are no longer being prepared at the same rates, and growth of the collection has slowed abruptly. At the same time usage of the collection has diversified, including increases in requests for destructive sampling. In particular, the removal of small tissue samples, usually bird toe pad scrapes, is regularly requested for use in DNA extraction which produces a ‘pure’ DNA extract that can be used in a number of genomic investigations.
Our destructive sampling policy mandates that researchers who extract DNA from specimens return the DNA extracts to the museum. However due to lack of facilities for long-term storage of DNA extracts this was not enforced. Subsequent requests for DNA potentially required another scrape of tissue rather than simply an aliquot of the previously extracted DNA. Likewise, World Museum was unable to establish a collection of ‘born’ DNA samples for which there is no traditional specimen, for example blood taken from live animals or environmental DNA, now commonly collected in the field without sacrificing individuals.
Recently as part of a large AHRC Capability for Collections award, World Museum has received two ultracold (-80°C) freezers with capacity to store 40,000 DNA extracts. The freezers have CO2 backups and are connected to the Eltek environmental monitoring system used across our stores and galleries, providing remote alerts in the case of power outage or failure. Following established standards each potential sample storage location (tube, box, drawer, freezer) is registered in Mimsy XG our collections management software.
World Museum is now ready to step forward as an additional national repository for DNA extracts. This not only includes DNA extracts from our collections’ historic specimens, such as the Canary Islands Oystercatcher and the type of the Southern Brown Kiwi, but also DNA extracts generated during our DNA barcoding workshops for local wildlife enthusiasts. Additionally, we can now welcome the accession of ‘born’ DNA samples collected in the field.
National Museums Scotland, part of the UK CryoArks initiative, accessions around 600 DNA extracts per year. Similarly, we plan to make our DNA extracts collection discoverable through the CryoArks database and look forward to our new freezers being rapidly filled.
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