RCN: A community of ex situ microbial germplasm collections

Collections of living microbes represent an essential foundation for US science and for the future bio economy. Environmental and plant-associated microbes include organisms that promote plant growth (symbionts), promote carbon cycling in the environment (saprophytes), fix carbon directly (algae), and cause plant (microbial and viral pathogens) or human disease. Other microbes are able to protect plants from attack by pathogens and pests (biocontrol agents), or can confer desirable or deleterious traits upon host plants (endophytes). Unfortunately, while the US has world-caliber collections of materials for genetic and health research, there is no well-coordinated national system for locating, preserving, or distributing valuable environmental or plant-associated microbes. As part of an ongoing effort to develop support for culture collections in the US it became obvious that there was no forum for discussions of culture collection issues in the US. In the past this role was partly filled by the US Federation for Culture Collections (USFCC), but the USFCC has not held a meeting since 2001. Because the collection community has shared goals and needs, we propose to develop a series of key resources as a focal point to this community. Among these goals are the development of shared informatics tools, visits to active culture collections, outreach into communities hosting collections, workshops on collection management and practices, and the growth of contacts among US and international collections and collection networks. An additional goal is to explore ways to institutionalize long-term support for this network of culture collection scientists and users, and this may include identifying an institutional manager for the USFCC or the establishment of a new society to fill the role originally held by the USFCC. Specifically, the RCN will propose the following activities:
 
  1. Develop syllabuses and organize a series of workshops to address specific challenges and needs associated with collection management, distribution, and practices with the goal of establishing a web-accessible database of protocols, policies, and best practice guidelines;
  2. Design a blueprint for a robust, yet flexible community cyberinfrastructure that supports the management of collection and associated data and coordinate community efforts to develop this cyberinfrastructure;
  3. Develop a formal back-up plan for active, orphaned, or endangered collections;
  4. Support visits to successful culture collections to facilitate the spread of best practices and educate the next generation of culture collection scientists:
  5. Strengthen and expand contacts among US and international collections and users to facilitate knowledge and material sharing;
  6. Explore sustainable mechanisms for institutionalizing long-term support for this network of culture collection scientists and users.
 
A series of meetings will be organized, each held at an active collection site and each targeted to address one or more of the above-mentioned goals. Development of workshop materials will be a top priority and workshops will begin in the second year. Laboratory exchanges will be combined with workshops and outreach. Additional meetings will deal with the cyberinfrastructure, backing up collections, institutionalizing the network, developing standards, and planning for the future.
 
Initial steering committee: Kevin McCluskey, UMKC (PI); A. Rick Bennett, U Arkansas (CO-PI); Seogchan Kang, Penn State (CO-PI); David Geiser, Penn State; Jessie Glaeser, USDA Northern Research Station; Kyria Boundy-Mills, UC Davis Pfaff yeast collection; Willie Wilson, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; Ulrich Melcher, OK State; Micah Krichevsky, USFCC; Kellye Eversole, APS; David Ellis, USDA NCGRP; David Smith, CAB International and GBRCN.
 
The intellectual merit of the proposal is primarily in enabling scientists from multiple disciplines to work towards addressing challenges and needs shared by all microbial germplasm collection managers and users. The broad impact is multi faceted and includes the development of protocols, standards, collection management guides, and educational materials, the offering of workshops on collection practices, the identification and deployment of shared software for collection management and user support, the re-establishment of a society of US culture collection scientists, and the implementation of a loss-prevention plan to protect at-risk collections from destruction or degradation.

 

Final Summary Report as published in RCN-NSF Proposal, October 13, 2011.