South Africa launched a new initiative that could be invaluable to researchers and scientists worldwide. The Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa (BBSA) has been created to coordinate and manage up to a million biological samples collected over the past 200 years. These samples include everything from live cultures of bacteria and single-celled organisms to blood taken from iconic wildlife, like rhinos and leopards, as well as seeds and germplasm from wild and domesticated plants.
The BBSA has been established to address the issues of biodiversity collection fragmentation over time. The use and accessibility of samples across different universities were the main concern. Until recently, each biobank worked in isolation and it made collecting, storing, and analysing samples challenging.
The national biobank aims to solve this issue by increasing the range and quality of samples while improving access to research through a central data portal. The launch of this initiative is a significant step forward for South Africa, one of the most biologically rich countries in the world.
The BBSA will be hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and led by Michelle Hamer, a zoologist who leads infrastructure development at the institute. The importance of this initiative is reflected in the words of Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO of the National Biodiversity Institute, who said, ‘The way we manage our biodiversity affects our economy, our environment, and our society. And we can’t manage what we don’t know.’
The Department of Science and Innovation is funding the BBSA, recognising the global importance of South Africa’s biodiversity riches. As Imraan Patel, head of research development and support at the Department of Science and Innovation, noted, the BBSA will have an impact around the world.
The BBSA is an exciting development that has the potential to unlock new scientific discoveries and benefit research efforts around the world. As we continue to explore and understand the world, initiatives similar to the newest biobank are vital in providing the resources and infrastructure necessary to protect and nurture different ecosystems.
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