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Mobilising collections through genomics

Natural history collections are vast biodiversity reference libraries, used for hundreds of years to help identify, understand and manage biodiversity.

A young man siting at a bench with a drawer of insect specimens in front of him and a microscope to his left.
A scientist working with specimens stored at the Australian National Insect Collection.

Until today, taxonomic classification of species relies on visual differences and we are still unable to identify most of the world’s species using DNA. This is a huge obstacle for life science researchers, whose work is largely driven by molecular data.

Our goal is to create the capability and capacity to generate the DNA reference sequences needed to link modern research to existing knowledge of species.

We are developing workflows to mobilise the genomic information locked within our 15 million specimens that make up the National Research Collections Australia. We are focussing on: reducing costs per sample, building capacity to handle up to 1,000 samples per day, automating workflows from sample to analysis result, and reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

Our work will enable us to tackle big future science questions in evolution, ecology, biosecurity and conservation, helping us to better understand and manage the great biodiversity of Earth in an efficient way.

Project lead: Dr Andreas Zwick