Issues Magazine

Urgent Need for Microbial Resource Centres


Crawford Fund

Microbial resource centres are essential for the ex situ conservation of microbial biodiversity. They provide authenticated cultures of microorganisms that are needed for regulation compliance in health and trade and advances in agriculture, food security, food safety, biotechnology innovation and education.

This was the key message of Emeritus Professor Lindsay Sly, Chair of the Council of Heads of Australian Collections of Microorganisms (CHACM) and the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland, who joined other biodiversity conservation specialists and advocates at the Crawford Fund’s 2010 international conference titled “Biodiversity and World Food Security: Nourishing the Planet and its People,” held in Parliament House, Canberra, from 30 August to 1 September.

Speaking at this key event in the Australasian region related to the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity, Professor Sly noted that microbial resources centres are not receiving the attention they deserve in Australia. “The OECD is promoting the development of microbial collections into Biological Resource Centres to meet the demands and quality requirements of the future,” Professor Sly said.

“Projects underway in the European Union, Japan, USA, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Kenya indicate a growing understanding that microbial resources in biological resource centres are essential for innovative advances in all areas of science to meet the growing global challenges in agriculture; human, animal and plant health; food safety and security; biosecurity and biotechnology,” Professor Sly said.

“In Australia, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy is funding the Atlas of Living Australia project to electronically integrate access to information in Australia’s animal, plant and microbial collections. To maximise this benefit and to participate equally in international developments, there is an urgent need for new long-term infrastructure funding mechanisms to support the operation and development of microbial resource centres in Australia,” he said.

He noted that:

  • there is an urgent need to improve the future security of microbial resource centres in long-term national and international infrastructure programs in order to maintain and extend their responsibilities to meet emerging global problems;
  • there is an urgent need to reverse the loss of collections and the microbial biodiversity when researchers retire or institutes change direction and priorities;
  • there is an urgent need to reverse the decline in microbial taxonomy teaching, research, training and expertise in universities and to train and mentor the next generation of taxonomists and curators of microbial resource centres;
  • likely changes in ecology and species ranges due to climate change will impact the demands on microbial resource centres and their expertise base; and
  • there is an increasing need to manage impediments due to quarantine, commercial intellectual property and biosecurity that limit the exchange of cultures between researchers.