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REFERENCE NO.: M/1999/1.01



A growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the hidden genetic potential has resulted in both an increased recognition of the value of collections of cultures of microorganisms and an increase in the number of such collections. However, not all parent organizations are fully aware of the responsibilities inherent in maintaining a public service to appropriate standards. A culture collection is a long-term commitment, as explained in the guidelines of the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC) (Hawksworth et al., 1990): "It is important to consider the level of funding, both now, and likely to be forthcoming on an on-going basis. This must be adequate to provide the range of services being planned, and at a standard users would expect. If secure resources are limited, in general it is preferable to restrict the primary objectives of the collection to those which have a strong probability of maintaining in the long-term. Collections require a clearly summarized general statement of their long-term objectives relating to the scope of their holdings, and to the range of outside services that are envisaged."

Culture collections are labour-intensive: accession, preservation and maintenance as well as the constant necessity to check the viability and authenticity of the biological material place a heavy burden on the shoulders of both technical and scientific staff and require specific skills and knowledge.

Culture collections should have a well-defined accession policy, including the type and quantity of biological material they want to access as well as the criteria to which this material has to comply. It is advisable to avoid duplication of biological material already present in other service culture collections, but focus on new collections, thus enlarging the public access to genetic resources.

The facilities of the laboratories and the training of the staff should be such that all activities can be performed according to the general rules of Good Laboratory Practice. This is the basis of sound collection maintenance, a condition sine qua non. In these guidelines it will be taken for granted that all the work is performed under Good Laboratory Practice conditions.

Research programs should be a part of the collection or its hostlaboratory ’s activities. This is essential to keep the collection’s staff up to date of new developments, but also improves the quality of the collection.

Staff should be well-trained and the knowledge and skill has to be maintained.


To minimize the chances of genetic changes, it is recommended to maintain the biological material by at least two different methods, and at least one of them should be maintenance in a metabolically inactive way: cryopreservation or lyophilization.

As the number of uncultured (micro)organisms far exceeds that of the cultured ones, research for both isolation and preservation techniques is highly needed. Also the development of screening procedures for particular organisms, of preservation protocols for biological material difficult to preserve by routine procedures, and of optimal cultivation media and conditions for growth are tasks of a well-run culture collection.

In order to minimize the risks to important genetic resources from fire, flooding, earthquakes, war or catastrophes, collections should arrange to have duplicates of at least the most important and irreplaceable strains and their associated documentation securely housed in a different building or ideally at a separate site.


For each resource records have to be kept. These not only include data like locality of origin, substrate, host, date of isolation/construction, name of person who isolated/constructed the resource, depositor etc., but also preservation methods applied, cultivation conditions, security and quality codes, characteristics and restrictions.

For optimal availability, records should be computerized and made available on-line. For bacteria and fungi, the formats developed for the Microbial Information Network Europe (MINE) format should be adopted (Gams et al., 1988; Stalpers et al., 1990). The use of MINE format is not mandatory, but it is the basis for conversion into the general CABRI system. Data on plasmids, viruses and transposons must be handled according to the PVT format (Vincente et al., 1992). From the computerized database catalogues of the resources available for distribution could be printed.

Several of the collection’s staff should be familiar with the operation of the database system in order to provide cover during periods of absence. For security reasons, duplicate computer files should be kept separately.


Resources ordered from culture collections are expected to be authentic. The collection should take care to ensure the biological material remains conform to the original deposit by carrying out appropriate test on a regular basis to the state of the art.


The resources offered in the collections’ catalogues should be distributed to individuals operating in a professional environment, subject to the restrictions indicated and to any import, quarantine or containment regulations that might apply as well as to normal credit control procedures where charges are required to be made.

The collections should provide their customers with all necessary information on the ordering procedure. This information should also be enclosed in the catalogue.

Collections should also maintain a detailed customer database recording the name and address of the client, the kind of resource sent (e.g. name and accession number), method and date of shipment.

International pertinent postal regulations regarding packaging and labelling of biological material need to be followed. 

Next to resource supply, culture collections may provide a variety of other services to the scientific and industrial community, e.g. identification of microorganisms, public deposit, safe deposit, patent deposit, contract research, consultancy, training courses.


Gams, W. et al. 1988. Structuring strain data for storage and retrieval of information on fungi and yeasts in MINE, the Microbial Information Network Europe. Journal of General Microbiology 134, 1667-1689.

Gams, W. et al. 1990. Computerization of strain data in the Microbial Information Network Europe (MINE). Sydowia 42, 218-230.

Hawksworth, D.L. and M.A.A. Schipper. 1989. Criteria for consideration in the accreditation of culture collections participating in MINE, the Microbial Information Network Europe. MIRCEN Journal 5, 277-281.

J.A. Stalpers et al. 1990 Structuring strain data for storage and retrieval of information on bacteria in MINE, the Microbial Information Network Europe. Systematic and Applied Microbiology 13, 92-103.

M. Vincente et al. 1992. A standardized format for handling data on plasmids, viruses and transposons: the PVT database format. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 8, 519-526.

WFCC, 1999. Guidelines for the etablishment and operation of collections of cultures of microorganims, 2nd edition. ISBN 92 9109 043 3 (see M/1999/1.00 Appendix 1)

Guidelines prepared for CABRI by DSMZ, CBS and BCCM, 17 May 1998; updated August 1999
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