The Government has placed responsibility for the United Kingdom's numerous collections of cultures and micro-organisms in the hands of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The collections include organisms as diverse as commercially useful bacteria and yeast and wood-rotting fungi, as well as medically important organisms such as cholera. Chris Miller, BBSRC's new coordinator of UK microbial culture collections, said that more than 60,000 strains of living and preserved bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, protozoa, animal cells, plasmids and bacteria-attacking viruses are now being held under the enterprise.
Dr Miller said the collections, some of which boast strains going back almost 80 years, provide a unique and valuable resource for the research community and industry. They provide reference points for research and a source of organisms for industry. A national collection of animal viruses will be created - the first of its kind in Europe. These organisms are increasingly used in biotechnology.
Declaring a new strategy for the collections in response to an independent review, science minister Ian Taylor said the BBSRC will set up a Culture Collections Advisory Group to oversee facilities. These include the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa and the National Collection of Yeast Cultures.
The only major rationalisation planned is the transfer of the National Collection of Food Bacteria to Aberdeen, where it will be merged with the National Collections of Industrial and Marine Bacteria.
There will also be a move to group all collections loosely around three centres to improve the marketing and cataloguing of cultures. These centres will focus on meeting the needs of particular user communities.
An industrial arm will centre on NCIMB; a medical one on the European Collection of Animal Cell Cultures, and an agricultural and mycological grouping will be led by the International Mycological Institute.