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.
Biobanks may sound a bit dull when compared to shelves teeming with boxes filled with fascinating skeletons, or cabinets stuffed with colourful skins, beautiful eggs or pinned insects. Serried ranks of anonymous freezers, enhanced with the odd fridge magnet, could make your heart sink, but peep inside the biobanks’ databases and you will see an amazing array of biodiversity.
At National Museums Scotland we host one of the main hubs of the CryoArks Biobank initiative alongside our partners at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, who also host a hub of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Biobank, and the Natural History Museum in London. CryoArks is a project led by Professor Mike Bruford of Cardiff University and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to establish zoological biobanking in the UK. As well as the -80o freezer infrastructure to store the tissue samples long term, CryoArks is developing an online database that will allow researchers to find out what genetic resources are available in the CryoArks Biobank hubs and in member institutions. With the advent of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefits Sharing in 2014, access to genetic samples from species from range countries is more challenging. Therefore, it is vital that we make the best use of the samples already available in the UK and make these freely available to support research, much of which may benefit the conservation of endangered species worldwide.