FRANCE: Scientists to coordinate EU micro-organism network

Two French research organisations, the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and the Institut Pasteur, are coordinating a three-year initiative to harmonise European systems of conserving and identifying bacteria and microscopic fungi. The work is expected to be exploited by pharmaceutical, agri-food, and the health industries.

EMBARC (the European consortium of microbial resource centres) is a project funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, with European Commission funding of EUR4.2 million (US$5.6 million) between 2009 and 2012.

The consortium consists of 10 microbial resource centres from seven countries specialising in collection, analysis and preservation of microbiological organisms. As well as harmonising the centres' methods of conserving and identifying samples of organisms such as bacteria, viruses and microscopic fungi, EMBARC will establish a DNA bank and improve DNA preservation techniques.

It will also explore new approaches to identifying and classifying the micro-organisms which have applications in sectors including academic research and teaching, the agri-food and pharmaceutical industries, and in hospitals. EMBARC will offer its resources, equipment and expertise to the wider research community, and provide services such as education, and identification of species.

Another objective will be to explore potential sources of finance, including private funding, to ensure the consortium's long-term future. INRA Rennes and the Pasteur Institute will be jointly responsible for scientific coordination of the network.

Sylvie Lortal, EMBARC's coordinator at INRA and head of the institute's Centre of Microbial Sources - Food-related Bacteria, said: "The quality of bio-resources is essential in the research undertaken to characterise and promote biodiversity. Contributing to the sustainability of collections and to their long-term financing is one of EMBARC's main objectives."

The two institutes emphasise that collections of micro-organisms are not museum pieces but precious resources important for research and public health. An example is development of vaccines which require work on pre-antibiotic cell lines and necessitate using bacterial strains more than 70 years old.