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New Initiative Will Improve Access to Biological Collections, Data

Scientists announce national effort to foster digitization of biodiversity collections


WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Scientists have launched a new national initiative to build a research and end-user community dedicated to developing a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA).  The project is an outgrowth of recent scientific meetings in which scientists have articulated a need to digitally capture biological specimens and associated data held in natural science collections for use in research, education, and for the public interest. 

Millions of biological specimens are curated in more than 1,000 biocollections housed in museums, universities, colleges, and herbaria across the United States.  These collections, which are the result of more than 250 years of scientific exploration and study, document life on Earth and provide the basis for research that can help answer the most vexing questions facing society, such as how biological systems may respond to climate change.

The project, Organizing, Coordinating, and Sustaining a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance, is supported by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Initial partner organizations are AIBS, the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), and the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance).  The project is also coordinating with iDigBio, a national digitization initiative led by the University of Florida and Florida State University.

"We greatly appreciate NSF's support for this initiative, and we look forward to additional support from other organizations that recognize the tremendous research and public benefits to be realized from this work," said AIBS executive director Dr. Richard O'Grady.  "In addition to our current partners, AIBS anticipates great interest from our 150 member organizations."

"We are pleased to be involved at the outset of this important initiative," said Andrew Bentley, president of SPNHC and collection manager of fishes at the University of Kansas.  "SPNHC members are eager to contribute because this is central to our field.  This will assist in identifying ways in which collections can be managed more efficiently.  I suspect we are going to start seeing additional career paths for collections professionals, too.  It's exciting."

"Natural science collections hold irreplaceable specimens and data," said Dr. Larry Page, president of the NSC Alliance. 

Importantly, these collections also inspire new research.  "We have teams of biologists, computer and data scientists, software engineers, and others collaborating in new ways," said Dr. Chris Norris, past-president of SPNHC and a senior collection manager at Yale University.

Additional participants will be invited to join an advisory committee in the coming weeks.  This group will then develop plans for engaging with the wider scientific community in the work of this project. 

"This is going to be an open process," said Dr. Robert Gropp, director of policy for AIBS.  "We are eager to have the active participation of all interested parties."

Please visit www.niballiance.org to learn more and to receive project updates, including information about opportunities to participate in the project.  

SOURCE American Institute of Biological Sciences

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