In DepthMUSEUMS

Report urges massive digitization of biospecimens

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Science  12 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 115
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6436.115

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Summary

For the past 8 years, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has sponsored the $100 million, 10-year Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program, which has paid for nearly 62 million biological specimens to be digitally photographed from multiple angles for specific research studies. Already, natural history and evolutionary studies are benefiting from easy access to information previously locked in museums. The United States should now create an all-encompassing database of the billion stuffed, dried, and otherwise preserved plants, animals, and fossils in museums and other collections, an NSF-sponsored white paper released last week urges. The report also calls for new approaches to cataloging digitized specimens and linking them to other data. If the plan is carried out, "There will be [a] huge potential impact for the research community to do new types of research," says NSF Biology Program Director Reed Beaman in Alexandria, Virginia. But the effort could take decades and cost up to half a billion dollars, and some fear the white paper will not win over policymakers.