News FocusScientific Collections

The Legacy Plan

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Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 135-137
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5988.135

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Scientists don't like to stop working. Yet eventually, at least some do move on and bid their colleagues farewell. And then their collections of blood, DNA, cancer tissue, and more, amassed over the course of their career, need a new steward. But finding one can be difficult, given the cost of archiving and storing samples, as well as concerns about their quality and the suitability of informed consent obtained long ago. There is no academic standard to guide collection bequests, no national repository to hold them. Current studies often include central banks for tissue and DNA, but many researchers, particularly those nearing retirement age, still keep personal repositories in their lab freezers. There's pressure on them to develop contingency plans, but few are willing to confront the toughest issue: whether their collections, which they hold dear, are worth preserving indefinitely.