Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Year in the Life of Scientific Collections

Fig.1. Scenes from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Credit left to right: Neil Palmer/CIAT, 2011Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust, 2008Dag Terje Filip Endresen/Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 2008)

Earlier this year, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) made a request to withdraw seeds from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which holds more than 850,000 samples from every country in the world. This request is the first of its kind for the “Doomsday Vault” that holds duplicate seed samples for national and international gene banks. The Syrian civil war forced ICARDA to move its headquarters from Aleppo, Syria, to Beirut, Lebanon, in 2012, and researchers managed to save 80 percent of the seed samples by sending them into storage at Svalbard.

Although such a withdrawal will allow ICARDA to regenerate these precious samples, it reveals the vulnerability of collections to war or even natural disasters. The year of 2015 marked a specific effort by individuals and organizations around the world to protect and sustain scientific collections, from those housed in natural history museums to frozen specimens in gene banks. We identified major trends that have affected both how collections are viewed in science and policy, as well as how they can be protected for generations to come. Read to learn more about what happened in the collections world this year, and what you should watch out for in 2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Year in the Life of "Collections in the News"

Fig.1. SciColl secretariat is housed at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C.
Don DeBold, 2012

With 158 articles published and more than a year underway, Collections in the News has sought to raise awareness about ongoing research done with scientific collections. This year brought visitors from 95 countries to our blog who read about a disease detective at the National Museum of Natural History, stopped for their Monday morning coffee break each week, and had the chance to learn how microbes and mammoth bones teach us more about our world.

Some blog highlights for 2015 include article series on international efforts that work to protect the planet’s soils and address climate change problems. We also participated in GIF week with Deep Sea News and celebrated Thanksgiving with maize scientists. Read more below about these article series!

Friday, December 18, 2015

In the News: In A Galaxy Not So Far Away

Are you dreaming of a galaxy far, far away? These articles will bring you back to our solar system and our moon - not the Death Star - with news on digitizing the Apollo 11 Command Module, outer space amino acids, extreme underground microbes, and more:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Dawn of Birds

Fig.1. A green-naped lorikeet, a little owl, an Adélie penguin, and a northern cardinal show only a fraction of the remarkable diversity of birds (Credit: Benjamint, 2009Trebol-a, 2011Reinhard Jahn, 2007; & Stephen Wolfe, 2011)

Around 65 million years ago, one of the largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history occurred. An estimated 75 percent of all species went extinct, from non-avian dinosaurs to types of mollusks, plankton, insects, and plants. With extinction, however, came the chance for animals like birds to diversify and expand into empty ecological niches in a process called adaptive radiation. Although the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (K-Pg) may have enabled the rapid evolution of new species of birds, research published last Friday in the journal Science Advances suggests that birds have a much longer and more complicated history than previously thought.

Friday, December 11, 2015

In the News: Moby-Dick and the Future Seas

As the climate talks in Paris come to a close - and as we wrap up GIF week with Deep Sea News - we learn more about ancient and recent marine collections that might save our warming seas. This week, we read about a miniature "Moby-Dick" from ancient times, the future of the Mediterranean, citizen science efforts, and more:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bones of Coral Reefs

Fig.1. Coral depends upon algae for survival (Credit:via GIPHY)

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just off the small island of Kiritimati, corals are dying off at an astonishing rate. The small atoll, also called Christmas Island, suffers from high water temperatures caused by the current El Niño that have reached 4℃ above normal. Although these temperatures might be nice for a beachgoer, they do not bode well for the survival of the atoll’s extensive coral reefs.

Friday, December 4, 2015

In the News: Mammoths and Men

Fig.1. Mammoth skeleton at the George C. Page Museum
(Credit: Russ via Flickr, 2014)

Artifacts, sediment cores, and mammoth bones all connect us to ancient history, either through culture or the natural world. This week in the news, we read about how to examine the past using old collections in new ways:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Of Ice and Insects

Fig.1. Greenland Ice Sheet (Credit: Christine Zenino, 2009)

Researchers at Stockholm University, Plymouth University, and the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) may have solved one of the most enduring puzzles from the last Ice Age. Around 12,880 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere experienced a sharp change in temperatures that culminated in a decrease of about 5℃ over 400 years. This event, called the Younger Dryas, is well documented in environmental records, but the cause had been largely unknown. In a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers brought together three types of collections to address this mystery.