[Taxacom] Vouchering and CBOL

Schindel, David schindeld at si.edu
Fri May 25 15:33:31 CDT 2007

This joint response comes from Bob Hanner, Chair of CBOL's Database
Working Group, Scott Miller, Chair of CBOL's Executive Committee, and
David Schindel, CBOL's Executive Secretary.

Neal has raised an important and complicated problem.  CBOL could have
simply issued a requirement that all barcoded specimens must be
accessioned into permanent collections, but that wouldn't have changed
the realities described below.

CBOL's Database Working Group held a series of workshops and planning
meetings between May 2004 and finalization of the BARCODE Data Standards
in November 2005 (see
http://barcoding.si.edu/PDF/DWG_data_standards-Final.pdf).  Taxonomists
with experience with museum collections were involved in each of these
discussions.  Based on their input and discussions with representatives
from GenBank, barcoding projects, GBIF, and many others, the Working
Group agreed that ideally, BARCODE reference records should be linked to
specimens that have been accessioned into biorepositories.  With this
ultimate goal in mind, the Database Working Group discussed and
recognized the following real-world limitations:

1.  Many specimens that are barcoded are already accessioned into
permanent collections in biorepositories.  Frozen tissues and relatively
young specimens that yield high-quality DNA are important resources for
barcoding studies.  Unfortunately, many museum specimens are too old
and/or degraded to yield DNA.  Formalin-fixed specimens represent a
particularly severe challenge.  As a result, many barcoding projects
must collect new specimens.  

2.  Few repositories will issue batches of collection accession numbers
in advance, so new collections are usually assigned temporary collection
numbers in the field.  Owing to curatorial backlogs, it may take months,
years, or even decades for a specimen to be accessioned formally into a
permanent collection, at which time the field collection number is
replaced by a permanent catalog ID. Many researchers will want to retain
possession of their specimens until a paper or a series of papers are
published.  Others will want to keep them at hand until they retire, so
they can continue comparative work throughout their research careers.
As a result, the temporary field numbers may be the only specimen ID for
a long time.

3.  The BARCODE data standards led to an agreement by GenBank, EMBL and
DDBJ to create a structured data field that will link BARCODE records to
voucher specimens.  Linkage to GenBank records will raise the visibility
and use of museum collections.  The voucher ID field (based on the
Darwin Core) includes the acronym and collection code of the
biorepository.  Unfortunately, there is no global registry for these
institutional acronyms and collection codes.  Some taxonomic communities
have compiled directories of their repositories but there has never been
a global compilation.  Many of the acronyms used in one discipline are
also used by repositories in other disciplines.  Without a system of
globally unique institution acronyms, there is no operational system for
pointing to a voucher specimen.  TDWG and GBIF are working toward a
Globally Unique ID, and CBOL stands ready to implement the concept as
soon as the guidelines on implementation of the GUID are solidified.

4.  Some private collections are enormous and extremely valuable, and
may represent unique opportunities to obtain barcode data from rare
species.  For example, private collections are very important in
entomology.  In many cases, insect barcoding projects may not have the
choice between privately-held specimens versus vouchers in public
collections.  For some rare species, the choice may be between barcoding
a privately-owned specimen or none at all.  In such cases, a barcode and
an e-voucher will be preferable to not having any data for a rare
species. CBOL therefore decided that each taxonomic community should set
its own norms for what constitutes an acceptable voucher specimen.  

In light of these and other realities, CBOL has launched a number of
initiatives to enable barcode projects to designate stable, secure, and
accessible voucher specimens:

*  CBOL, GenBank, and GBIF are collaborating to collect institutional
acronyms and collection codes into a global registry.  These acronyms
and codes would be used to link to voucher specimens in a way consistent
with the Darwin Core and the BARCODE data standards.

*  CBOL, GenBank and GBIF are in the process of developing an on-line
registry system for research collections for specimens that are linked
to BARCODE records.  The registry would include data on where the
research collection is held and information on how to access specimens
in each collection.

*  CBOL will encourage barcode projects to include the costs of curating
barcoded specimens and accessioning them into permanent collections in
their funding proposals.  By providing funds for curation, voucher
specimens from barcoding projects will be accessioned into permanent
collections with less delay.

*  CBOL will encourage all major barcode projects to move barcoded 
specimens from research and private collections into permanent
biorepositories, and to replace temporary specimen IDs linked to BARCODE
records with the permanent voucher IDs.

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Neal Evenhuis
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 1:15 AM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] Vouchering and CBOL

I have been informed that a researcher working for the Consortium for 
the Barcode of Life is intending to "voucher" specimens from which 
DNA was extracted into his personal collection.

I looked for a protocol for vouchering specimens for CBOL and found a 
document online that indicated that the CBOL Database Working Group 
recommended (in 2005) that barcodes be linked to vouchered specimens. 
However, I could find no further documentation regarding protocol for 
where those vouchers should be deposited.

I would think that CBOL would want to strengthen and legitimize the 
results of their research by insisting on the permanence of their 
vouchers and thus require that vouchers be deposited in a permanent 
collection and not private and/or personal collections (where 
personal collections may easily be destroyed upon that person's death 
by unknowing persons -- and I know of a few that have).

Am I missing something that CBOL has told their participants 
regarding this -- or has CBOL missed the importance of permanent 
vouchers by omitting where vouchers should be deposited?


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