Thursday, July 28, 2016

Describing the undescribed

Fig. 1. Chiloglanis kerioensis, one of the species Hank Bart and colleagues discovered in Kenya. (Credit: R.C. Schmidt).

Henry “Hank” Bart, director of Tulane University’s Biodiversity Research Institute, had never done research in Africa, much less visited the continent, before 2008. Now after intense suckermouth catfish research in Kenya over the past few years, Bart is looking to continue his work there.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In the News: Biodiversity in Beer and Nut-cracking Monkeys

Fig.1. Some beer labels now display Genebank accession numbers. (Credit: Ove Fosså.)

A powerful DNA tool holds the answers to crop population genetic variations, and archaeologists discover tools that monkeys used to get their nut fix. That and more in our science news roundup.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Archaeogenomics Equation

What do you get when you mix archaeology, ecology, wildlife management, and conservation genomics? No, this isn’t a tagline similar to a duck-in-a-bar joke. What you have is an emerging field of studying called conservation archaeogenomics.

At the forefront of this work are Robert Fleischer and Jesús Maldonado, both of the Center for Conservation Genomics (CCG) at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and National Zoo. The purpose of archaeogenomics is to use genomic methods to learn how humans impacted the environment over time, and Fleischer and Maldonado use this information to make recommendations for conservation.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Greatest Hits

Fig.1. Museum in Pennsylvania (Credit: Michelle J. Enemark, 2011) and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault 
 (Credit: Mari Tefre, Global Crop Diversity Trust, via Flickr

Editor’s Note: After two years of exciting and engaging work, staff writer Adele Crane will be leaving Scientific Collections International for graduate school in Arizona. Out of 214 posts garnering more than 34,500 views, Adele chose some of her favorite articles.

From a small natural history museum in Pennsylvania to a seed-bank built to survive doomsday scenarios, collections reside all around the world in many forms. My work over the past two years with Scientific Collections International (SciColl) has been to chip away at only a fraction of the specimens and samples out there, exploring a slew of topics from microbes in your backyard to moon rocks - and on rare cases, even both!

When we initially started the blog, we wanted to connect collections to disease research and response. Articles on cross-disciplinary and novel approaches to outbreaks would lead up to SciColl’s very first workshop on Emerging Infectious Diseases. The workshop was indeed timely, coinciding with the Ebola epidemic in Africa, and it highlighted the need to make this type of active outreach ongoing, instead of sporadic.

Perhaps as a preface to the type of work I will pursue in graduate school, my favorite articles were a fantastic education on how to bridge unique specimens with historic and current disease research. To break down the broad topic of “emerging infectious diseases,” we focused on smaller case studies of known and relatively unknown pathogens that affect millions around the world:

  • Disease Collections and How They Can Save the World: In 1976, a broken vial of blood transported in luggage from the Democratic Republic of the Congo found its way to the young Belgian scientist, Peter Piot. The blood carried one of the most feared pathogens in current disease research. 

  • C. Miguel Pinto, the Disease Detective: A conversation with C. Miguel Pinto in our very own museum explored the cross-section of disease research and classic taxonomy, in which basic evolutionary principles are tested. 

Fig.2. Plate of microorganisms that were cultured from the soil
(Credit: Julia Stevens)

Over the course of the blog, we looked beyond case studies and current research challenges. How can ancient specimens inform future problems? There are many examples where collections were used to further important research in areas like environmental change and food security.

When we take a step back, the larger impacts of educating the next generation of scientists or bringing countries together to protect biodiversity are extraordinarily important. After working with SciColl, I am grateful to have gained that perspective and I hope to hear many more of these stories in years to come:

  • Microbes and Middle Schools: Citizen science has the ability to reach both students and researchers in powerful ways. Collections that not only support invasive species studies but engage middle schoolers in science are a cornerstone of ongoing work at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. 

  • Seeds for the End of the World: Seed banks preserve both biological diversity and cultural heritage. Banks around the world, from Peru to Norway, are working to provide a future for agriculture and historical practices. 

  • Smart Collecting: A New Collecting Culture: What began as a short discussion in our Emerging Infectious Disease workshop turned into a larger conversation about a “collecting culture” that could be improved for museums and biobanks alike.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Save the Date: Food Security Symposium

We are excited to announce the symposium “Stressors and Drivers of Food Security: Evidence from Scientific Collections,” which will bring together researchers and experts on scientific collections across disciplines to address issues regarding food security. This symposium will be held September 19 to 21 at the National Agriculture Library in Beltsville, Md., and will be hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Scientific Collections International.

Friday, July 1, 2016

SciColl presentations at SPNHC and GGBN

We were pleased to attend the SPNHC and GGBN meetings last week in Berlin. We look forward to continuing the conversations with our many colleagues and other collections champions!

If you weren’t able to attend SPNHC, those sessions were recorded. Find them all on iDigBio’s site. David presented in the Collections for the Future session on Thursday afternoon and Eileen presented in the second DemoCamp session on Friday morning.

Our GGBN talks weren’t recorded, but we’ve uploaded the slides for David’s Thematic, Demand-driven Sampling: Economics of Three Strategies, his presentation for GGBN, and Scientific Collections, Food Security and Emerging Infectious Diseases, which he presented at SPNHC.  Eileen’s A Global Registry of Scientific Collections: Striking a Balance Between Disciplinary Detail and Interdisciplinary Discoverability presentation are also uploaded. They can also be found in GGBN’s document library. (If you would like an account, send a request to: