Establishment of an Australian Microbial Resources Research Network will draw together under one umbrella high quality research and researchers working in a range of disciplines including Microbial Diversity, Taxonomy, Evolution and Genomics, Ecology, Identification, Culture Collections, and Bioinformatics, as well as in Biodiscovery and Biotechnology.

This initiative provides an opportunity to rectify the current fragmented approach and provides a national focus but will need infrastructure funding if it is to achieve its full potential and reach the standard of similar facilities and networks in other countries. If adequately funded it will have a significant impact and provide an impetus to Australian research and development by overcoming current deficiencies in infrastructure and inefficiencies due to major difficulties experienced by researchers to gain access to microbial cultures and information on these cultures.

The Network will thus be an enabling initiative which will bring together existing resources, while providing a framework for future development and funding initiatives. It will provide a means to encourage researchers to accession valuable cultures in collections for future research and exploitation, as well as making available reference and control cultures used in standard methods of analysis. Thus the Network will establish essential basic collaborative infrastructure to meet national strategic needs in the life sciences, biotechnology, industry, and educational sectors. It will commence a process to overcome a long recognised deficiency in Australian scientific infrastructure not addressed by previous programs and will foster the sharing of information and resources for innovative research.

The Network will provide excellent opportunities to make a major contribution to achieving national research priorities including An Environmentally Sustainable Australia (understanding environmental systems, transforming existing industries, sustainable use of biodiversity), Promoting and Maintaining Good Health (diagnosis and prevention of microbial diseases), Frontier Technologies (biotechnology, bioremediation, material sciences, nanotechnology, biosensor technology, biomaterials, biopolymers), and Safeguarding Australia (critical infrastructure, protecting Australia from invasive diseases and pests, biosecurity).

Fronteir opportunities and the development of a strong and competitive biotechnology industry in Australia will depend on achieving the objectives of this Network to accelerate the discovery of Australian microbial diversity, strengthen and support culture collections of microorganisms, and to provide essential information on these resources to researchers and industry.

The Network will provide an excellent opportunity to encourage young researchers. As taxonomic expertise has been run down across the biological disciplines, the Network will become a focus for taxonomic research and provide opportunities for training and collaborative research.

The World Federation for Culture Collections and the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy (2001) r ecognise that biological resources in culture collections are a world resource which need to be accessible across national boundaries for the orderly progress of science and biotechnology. While Australian scientists have access to international resources, Australia cannot depend on other countries to conserve and maintain its microbial resources. Issues such as geographic isolation, quarantine regulations, shipping delays and rising costs, and timely access to biological resources, information and expertise are a national responsibility which can be best resolved by the provision of high quality infrastructure as discussed above.

Many Australian culture collections are already individually Affiliate Members of the World Federation for Culture Collections and provide data to the WFCC World Data Centre for Microorganisms (WDCM) in Japan . The Network will provide an opportunity to increase collaboration with the WDCM by developing electronic links for updating information on Australian microbial resources as novel microorganisms with specific characteristics are brought into culture for the first time. Development of the Network will also provide an excellent opportunity for collaboration with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to showcase Australian microoorganisms to the global community.

The opportunities facilitated by this initiative will affect the development of research in a wide range of disciplines by providing essential biological resources and services such as:

  • Microbial and cell cultures for applications in industry; biotechnology;
    human, animal and plant health; research; molecular biology; education; and quality assurance testing.
  • Molecular vectors, genomic DNA, DNA clone libraries, and genetic strains for application in molecular biology research and biotechnology.
  • Internet accessible information on Australian microbial diversity, cultures, and genetic resources.
  • Ex-situ conservation of Australian microbial diversity for current and future applications.
  • Expertise and services for isolation of cultures for specific applications; screening of strains for specific traits; identification of cultures for research, industry, testing laboratories, biosecurity; and taxonomic characterization and nomenclature for patents and other purposes.
  • Sources of microorganisms for discovery of new natural product opportunities for bioindustries including novel enzymes, biopolymers, pharmaceuticals, and genes.
  • Sources of microorganisms for use in bioremediation, industrial processes and biotransformations, pollution control, microbial inocula for soil and plant health.
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