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Jack Fell from the University of Miami recently retired and sent his collection of about 4,000 or 5,000 marine yeasts to us. In the early 1970’s, we received about 6,000 biodegradation fungi that the U.S. Army Quartermaster had collected. Those were collected during World War II, mainly in the South Pacific, where tents and clothes and other fabrics were falling apart faster than they could be manufactured. For a while there was little interest in these fungi, but recently, with the interest in biomass conversion, these strains are attracting attention as a group of organisms that could be really useful for breaking down cellulose and other fibers.

Over the years we have also had a number of research programs that netted us literally thousands of cultures related to food safety, microbiology of cereals, and so forth. And, finally, a number of our cultures have been contributed by scientists who asked that we maintain them because they are part of their publication process.

BOX 7-1

Issues for Germplasm at Risk

Abandoned Collections

- Who will decide their value?

- Who will take them?

Research Materials – Deposit of strains

- Key strains should be deposited in culture collections and distributed without restrictions because these cultures represent part of the materials and methods of the published research and are therefore essential for verification and extension of the findings.

- Will journals enforce this concept by requiring that subject cultures be deposited in a recognized culture collection and free of restrictions on distribution?

Research Materials – Undeposited strains

- How does one ensure that cultures cited in a publication will be available to other investigators when the culture is available only from the investigator who published the paper? What if the culture is lost by the investigator? What if the investigator will not share the culture after publication?

A couple things are clear about abandoned collections (Box 7–1). One is that a huge amount of money was spent gathering these collections, and each may have taken someone’s whole career to assemble, often using quite a lot of support from the National Institutes of Health or other agency. But once the scientists retire, their collections are candidates for the trash heap. This is incredible waste, but this seems to be a common problem nationally and internationally. So, where it was possible, the ARS Culture Collection has taken some of the more prominent abandoned collections.

The other observation that can be made about abandoned collections is that with their varied history—their varied investigators, substrates, and contributors—it is not clear who owns these cultures. The U.S. government certainly does not own them. We at ARS maintain them, but could the heirs of Charles Thom claim them, for instance?

So, there is an interesting dilemma if one of these abandoned cultures becomes important biotechnologically: Who should get the payoff? How do you deal with this?

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