Centuries of discovery document the diversity of life on Earth. Records of that biodiversity are, for the most part, in varied and distinct natural history collections, making assessing the information a difficult task.
Now, the National Science Foundation (NSF), through its Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, is responding to the need for greater accessibility of biological collections data by awarding four major grants that seek to create a national resource of digital data documenting existing biological collections.
Biological diversity is critical to the future of our planet, say researchers. Incomplete information on species, their distributions and environmental and biological changes over time make it difficult, however, to assess the status of and changes in biodiversity.
Much of the relevant information exists in the nation’s research collections, but the majority isn’t integrated and isn’t readily available online. It’s “dark data”–inaccessible to most biologists, policy-makers and the general public.
One award will establish a central National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections, and three large collaborative awards will allow for the development of Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs) to digitize data from biological research collections, and make the data available to scientists and the public.
The program is expected to result in more efficient and innovative ways to provide access to information in biological research collections, and to speed up the process of integrating diverse information on the genetic, ecological, organismal and molecular biology of specimens in collections.
Standardized digital photos of specimens will be linked with DNA sequences, pathogens found on the specimens, environmental variables at the collecting localities, and electron micrographs, for example.
Training for future researchers on collections techniques, informatics technology and data integration is part of the efforts.
The awards provide graduate and undergraduate training opportunities, and outreach to K-12 educators, students and non-scientists.
Science: "NSF Awards Grants to Advance Digitization of Biological Collection"
Filed by July 9, 2011on