Biodiversity biobanks: an invaluable resource for the future

By Samantha Luciano

Biodiversity biobanks are less well known than their biomedical counterparts, but they represent an invaluable asset for meeting the global health and environmental challenges of our century. Whether they are home to animal, plant or micro-organism collections, these infrastructures contribute to research and development in many fields, including medical and veterinary treatments, breeding and reproduction, environment and conservation, agro-industry and biotechnology.

The major advantage of biodiversity biobanks is the variety of samples and taxa present in these collections: tissues, fluids, whole specimens, cell cultures, DNA or RNA from most of the vertebrate and invertebrate species on our planet.

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Highlighting Histories: Women in Science – Mary Mantell

Published by Leonie on behalf of Learning Volunteer & Women in Science Tour Guide Alex Holding

As a taster for the free NHM Women in Science Tours, Learning Volunteers will be sharing blogs on some pioneering women of science.  We can learn more about them, their work and share some information about the Museum’s displays and cutting-edge science.  Our first venture is Mary Mantell.

Mary Mantell was an active amateur fossil hunter in the nineteenth century. Arguably, she is less well known than her namesake Mary Anning.  Mantell’s reputation is also eclipsed by that of her husband Gideon Mantell, a medical doctor, renowned amateur geologist, and palaeontologist.

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Arabic and Persian plant names in the Codex Vindobonensis | Curator of Botany

The Codex Vindobonenis is a Byzantine compendium of pharmaceutical knowledge produced in around 512 C.E.. In this blog, Hanouf Al-Alawi and botany curator John Hunnex discuss their recent project examining the overlooked Arabic and Persian annotations on the plant descriptions included in the work.

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Why biobanking is key to preserving biodiversity | Jacqueline Mackenzie-Dodds, Molecular Collections Facility Manager

Jackie Mackenzie-Dodds (in full cryo-gear!) decanting liquid nitrogen from the Molecular Collection Facility’s LN2 bulk tank. Copyright: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Although estimates of extinction rates vary significantly [1], anywhere from losing hundreds to hundreds of thousands of species each year, it is widely acknowledged that we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. Ensuring we deliver a wide range of conservation measures to protect species is key to halting this decline across all taxonomic groups. A growing area of research is focussing on biobanking as an effective way to deliver this. But what does this mean in practice, how does it work and why is it important?

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Data in Action: British butterflies body size changes in response to climate change | Digital Collections Programme

Drawer of Silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) butterflies from the Museum’s collection

A brand new scientific paper applies computer vision to over 125,000 of the Museum’s digitised Butterfly collection to understand how animals may respond to climate change.

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Collecting the West and the NHM Petrology collection | Curator of Petrology

As part of “Collecting the West”, an Australian Research Council funded research project that is looking at what’s been collected from Western Australia and what these collections tell us about who Western Australians were, researchers Tiffany Shellam (History, Deakin University) and Alistair Paterson (Archaeology, University of Western Australia) studied the NHM petrology collection. One of the project partners is the British Museum, whose relationship to these early collections and shared history with the NHM is reflected in the catalogue code ‘B.M.’ seen on the specimens in these drawers.

Among the old wooden cabinets, storing historical specimens from around the world, they have encountered various early collections from the period 1818-1860.

The inspection of this collection of Western Australian specimens allowed the researchers to understand the reasons for collecting rock specimens and their findings were published in the article “A historical stratum of geological collections from Western Australia in the Natural History Museum, London” in the journal Studies in Western Australian History.

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Shackleton, Sponges and a Strange Case of Mistaken Identity | Earth Sciences

Author– Andrew Tucker

Hello there, my name is Andrew. For the last few months, I have had the privilege to assist the Natural History Museum as a Curatorial Assistant, digitising the information of a group of fossil sponges, the lithistids, a polyphyletic group that does not share a common ancestor and, at this moment, is the object of numerous studies. I am also curating the specimens, re-boxing them with new acid-free trays and plastazote foam.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922), the famed Antarctic explorer. Image BHL, “South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition, 1914-1917”.

When I read in the news on Wednesday 9 March that the Shackleton Expedition’s ship, the Endurance, had been found I mentioned it to my manager, Senior Curator of Fossil Porifera Collection, Dr. Consuelo Sendino. She recalled that there were fossil sponge specimens gathered by Shackleton in the museum’s collections.

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