Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Treasure houses under threat

The Field Museum Chicago
by Juanfibarra Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5
Museums house vast collections of specimens. For major museums of Natural History, these can be numbered in tens of millions. The specimens of greatest interest to embryologists will be in the wet collection and preserved as a rule in alcohol. Curating these specimens is an expensive business. When Chicago's Field Museum built a new Collections Resource Center the bill ran to $65 million and so stretched the budget that it resulted in cuts to museum staff (here).

Cross section through placental disc of a web-footed tenrec
(Limnogale mergulus) from Enders et al. (here). FMNH 165440
Now museum collections in the US are under further threat as the National Science Foundation has suspended its funding for the maintenance of biological research Collections (here). This is a matter of great concern.

Thanks to the Field Museum were able to describe the placenta from a rare specimen of an aquatic tenrec (above). We also used Field Museum specimens when reviewing the reproductive organs of bats (here).

Gravid uterus of a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) from the Hill Collection
currently housed at Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Some museums house dedicated collections of embryological material. The J. P. Hill Collection is a good example and we have used it for several projects, including the first description of deep trophoblast invasion in a non-human primate (here).

The history of this collection is instructive. After Hill's death in 1954 it was stored in the attic of Dixon Boyd's house in Cambridge. It subsequently found what seemed to be a permanent home at the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht. Together with the Hubrecht Collection it was eventually kept in a purpose built facility of a new building. With a change of director this space was seen as more suitable for -70 freezers and the future of the collection remained uncertain until it was removed to Berlin. The director subsequently became President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences! 

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