The UK Biological Resource Centre Network (UKBRCN) - meeting the needs of the scientific community - News & Features

7 January 2016
The UK Biological Resource Centre Network (UKBRCN) - meeting the needs of the scientific community

The role that the UK plays in medical and life sciences research and development is underpinned by the existence of eight national biological resource centres (BRC’s) (Table 1). These expert centres are able to provide more than a hundred thousand separate strains of microbial cultures & human and animal cell lines of unique diversity (Figs 1 & 2) for research and development in fields as wide-ranging as food, brewing, biological control, basic research and manufacture and testing of a range of products including drugs, vaccines, biotherapeutics, antibiotics, neutraceuticals and paints.



Figure 1: Biodiversity of UKBRCN holdings (after Adl et al. 2012)

In conserving genetic resources and biodiversity, these BRCs provide the essential underpinning activity for emerging biotechnologically based eco-efficient products for industries in both developed and resource limited countries  (OECD, 2001), which makes them an essential element in the development of a knowledge-based bioeconomy (OECD, 2009). BRCs not only provide living resources, but  also permit access to associated bioinformatic data, and a range of services to support the application and utilisation of cells and microorganisms e.g. quality control, contract research, training in the preservation and management of living resources, processing and storage of strains used in patent applications.


Figure 2: The UKBRCN collections maintain a diverse range of living resources


The UK has a long history in establishing specialist ‘Culture Collections’ dating back to 1920, which are hosted by expert research institutions. This is in sharp contrast to other OECD countries where large centrally funded BRC’s that cover many different biological domains are the norm. In 1994, a review of UK Microbial Culture Collections (Whittenbury, 1994), led to government support for establishing the ‘UK National Culture Collection’ ( to coordinate the activities of the UK national public service collections of microorganisms and cell lines and the National Collection of Pathogenic Viruses was established at that time (2001). Supporting the core activities of the UKNCC and the different priorities of the various umbrella organisations, which host the various collections, is challenging and the new UKBRCN must find the resources to support a dynamic international presence that UK BRCs require in order to prosper. In recent years, the challenge of sustaining local funding has limited the opportunities for networking between the UK BRCs and this has threatened to put the UK at a disadvantage on the international stage.

The UK invests millions of pounds through the UK research councils in biotechnology and medical research and is recognised as a world leader in biological science. However, high quality efficient research depends on scientists utilising fully-authenticated organisms and accessing expert identification, characterisation and the related services offered by the UK’s BRC’s. Likewise, the outputs of research must be made sustainable and available for future research and development. Depositing organisms in a BRC is an important mechanism to justify investment from research donors. It is therefore imperative, that the UK BRC’s continue to underpin the UK scientific research base by providing a broad range of services. BRCs must also be well coordinated to provide the services and resources that users require as part of the UK’s national capability in bioscience.

Table 1. Founding members of the UK Biological Resource Centres Network 



* Also host the UK National Collection of Wood Rotting Fungi (NCWRF) and the British Antarctic Survey Culture Collection


*** 23 currently being released and new clinical grade cell lines now deposited


As a result of the recent meeting in London, the principal UK BRCs (Table 1) have established the UK Biological Resource Centre Network (UKBRCN) to exploit the benefits of working together. The network is open to any UK institution or company hosting a collection of living organisms. The prime objectives of the network are to:

·       Co-ordinate engagement with common stakeholders (editorial boards, grant funding authorities, UK government etc.)

·       Engage with other collections and organisations worldwide in the same sector (food, clinical, plant, human, animal, algae, industrial, environmental etc.). For example, align with other national networks such as the recently established US Culture Collection Network (McCluskey et al. 2014).

·       Share best practice with respect to quality and compliance to issues such as the Nagoya protocol, ensuring that users of living genetic resources and collections operate within the law.

·       Provide expert responses and solutions to the problems faced by those working with and harnessing biological resources.

·       Form the UK node of the EU ESFRI MIRRI project; a large multi-partner consortium of biological resource centres. The Microbial Resource Research Infrastructure project is a pan-European distributed research infrastructure in its preparatory Phase which aims to support research and development in the field of biotechnology (Schüngel et al. 2013).

·       Raise awareness of Culture Collections and their value to the scientific community through information dissemination, training and provision of general information.

·       Share best practice with resource-limited countries and facilitate knowledge transfer as part of the UK commitment to the UN Millennium Goals (;

·       Coordinate grant applications in key areas of research to enhance scientific procedures and services of the UK BRCs, in support of British industry.

·       Provide a central expert resource to inform the user community of developments in legislation that may influence research such as the Nagoya Protocol.

·       Provide a website as a 'common access portal' for users, containing information about the collections, training and educational programmes, BRC research and how to access the services provided by the UK BRC’s

The UK network will meet on a yearly basis to foster collaborative links and welcome new members to the BRC community. The network will respond on an ad hoc basis to special issues in need of prompt response in order to support researchers, industry and government.

In summary, the UKBRCN aims to drive inter-laboratory networking and collaboration that will preserve and harness biodiversity and biological resources. It will support and stimulate UK research as an essential part of the national science infrastructure promoting high quality research and development and raise the UK’s profile internationally (Smith 2013). We welcome enquiries from users and other potential member collections to discuss how the UKBRCN can provide better and different services or act as potential partners in academic collaborations.



Adl SM, Simpson AG, Lane CE, Lukeš J, Bass D, Bowser SS, Brown MW, Burki F, Dunthorn M, Hampl V, Heiss A, Hoppenrath M, Lara E, Le Gall L, Lynn DH, McManus H, Mitchell EA, Mozley-Stanridge SE, Parfrey LW, Pawlowski J, Rueckert S, Shadwick RS, Schoch CL, Smirnov A, Spiegel FW (2012). The revised classification of eukaryotes. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 59: 429-93

McCluskey K,  Bates S, Boundy-Mills K, Broggiato K, Cova A, Desmeth P,  DebRoy C, Fravel C, Garrity G, del Mar Jiménez M, Joseph L, , Lindner D, Lomas MW, Morton J, Nobles D, Turner J, Ward T, Wertz J, Wiest W & Geiser D  (2014) Meeting report: 2nd workshop of the United States culture collection network Standards in Genomic Sciences 9:27

OECD (2001) Biological Resource Centres – Underpinning the Future of Life Sciences and Biotechnology.

OECD (2009) The Bioeconomy to 2030: designing a policy agenda. OECD Publications.

Schüngel M, Stackebrandt E, Bizet C & Smith D (2013) MIRRI - The Microbial Resource Research Infrastructure: managing resources for the bio-economy.  EMBnet. Journal 19.1, 5-8. (

Smith D, Fritze D, & Stackebrandt E (2013) Public Service Collections and Biological Resource Centres of Microorganisms. In: Rosenberg E, De Long EF, Lory S, Stackebrandt E & Thompson F (eds.) The Prokaryotes - Prokaryotic Biology and Symbiotic Associations.   Springer-Verlag Berlin, Heidelberg, p. 267-304.

Whittenbury R (1994) Review of UK Microbial Culture Collections: An Independent Review of the UK Microbial Culture Collections. HMSO, November 1994