There is also the National Collection of Industrial Microorganisms at Pune, and this is completely different from that in the United States. That is, there is a separate culture collection for those microbes that are industrially important and that can be used more for development or in a commercial fashion.
We also have a separate culture collection for viruses, and we have a national facility for animal and tissue cell culture along the lines of the ATCC, although it has not grown to the same extent.
In addition to these main collections at the national level, we have several specialized collections, and they do not get very much support from the national agencies. These are being done more at an institutional level or as specific projects. As long as those projects are ongoing, these culture collections will grow. For all of these culture collections, most of the information is available only in printed formats. Very few of them have their own websites where the full information is available. That makes getting information from these localized culture collections very difficult.
These culture collections have also developed material transfer agreements (MTAs) —not quite to the level that we see at ATCC and similar collections, but they are following similar lines to those established by the ATCC. The result is a similar set of restrictions on distributing the cultures, with advantages and disadvantages that are similar to those with the ATCC. As seen in the United States and elsewhere, the majority of scientists generally try to get materials from these culture collections on an informal basis. As a consequence, it is difficult to be certain about the quality of the cultures used in performing scientific research. This lack of quality assurance makes it difficult to verify research results.
Thailand has a similar network of culture collections. One part of the network, the Biotech Culture Collection, has nearly 3,430 cultures. The Department of Medical Sciences has its own separate collection, as does the Department of Agriculture and the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research.
These distributed culture collections generally do not communicate with each other. This is the case not just in India, but in many countries. How good is that interaction in the United States, for instance? Human nature is the same everywhere, and scientists want to hold on to what they have, even though we keep saying that scientists like to publish. Yes, they do like to publish, but only the final results. Once scientists have developed those collections and materials, they want to hold on to them.
There are a variety of issues facing culture collections in developing countries. In most of these culture collections the characterization is very minimal. Few culture collections are characterized at the DNA-fingerprinting level, and we do not know whether a given culture in the collection is the same as or different from some other culture. The data are not fully computerized, and information about the cultures is not easily available, as I have already mentioned. Moreover, in most culture collections there is duplication: The same cultures are available in different base collections, and.this leads to higher maintenance costs. The material transfer agreements are similar to those used by ATCC and by most repositories.
There is no system in place to detect or prevent misuse of an MTA. An MTA may be signed, but we do not yet have a system to detect whether the MTA has been used or misused. Nor are there any good answers to the question of what needs to be done if the the MTA is misused. That aspect of the system is still very weak.
Another major difference between the developed and developing countries is that, at least in India, very few scientists are conversant with taxonomic classifications. Even