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Synthesis of Systematic Resources

Final Report Summary - SYNTHESYS (Synthesis of Systematic Resources)

Executive Summary:
SYNTHESYS has created a shared, high-quality approach to the management, preservation, and access to leading European natural history collections. These collections are a physical infrastructure supporting a variety of research including the impact of human activity on the diversity and distribution of biodiversity, and consequently the provision of ecosystem services essential to human well-being.
Present and future access to European natural science collections relies on those collections and their accompanying data being well preserved and easily and widely accessible both now and in the long-term. It has been the aim of SYNTHESYS Networking Activities (NA), and Joint Research Activities (JRA) to raise standards of collections care and access, to remove barriers to access, and to maximise the efficient use of limited resources available.
SYNTHESYS Access has provided access to the Consortium's vast collections, facilities and libraries with support from in-house researchers and curators. It provided Users with a total of 10,464 days of access over four years, with 1,551 recorded outputs from Users of which 722 are 'accepted', 'in press' or 'published'.
The SYNTHESYS JRA have assisted in meeting researcher demands for sequenceable DNA by enhancing and improving extraction tools and protocols. The JRA (i) developed non-invasive tools for estimating the presence of ancient DNA in specimens, (ii) investigated creation of DNA libraries to reduce the need to re-sample rare museum specimens by effectively immortalising one DNA sample, (iii) investigated the use of micro-sampling techniques to minimise impact on collections, (iv) tackled problems associated with extraction of DNA from plant material, and (v) opened up more effective access to DNA in formerly difficult organisms such as molluscs. By focusing the JRA on DNA extraction, SYNTHESYS has exploited a largely untapped facet of the Consortium's 337 million strong collections.
NA2 assessed the state of collections management in Europe, and provided resources and training to help institutions raise standards and minimise risks to long term preservation and access. It reviewed management tools such as performance indicators to help institutions use limited resources efficiently and measure performance in a meaningful way. NA2 improved collections management through the following mechanisms: (i) an assessment tool and audit facility to enable institutions to complete a self assessment on the status of their collections management; (ii) training courses in priority areas of collections management; (iii) a web-based forum for exchange of information and advice on best practice, techniques and policies; and (iv) sets of performance indicators in collections management.
NA3 has improved electronic access and sharing of collections information across Europe, previously held in disparate institutional databases. Barriers remained to efficiently and accurately transfer data from specimen labels etc. into electronic form and for specialists to feedback data such as new determinations of specimens to the original providers. NA3 has addressed these barriers through: (i) investigating innovative ways to populate databases; (ii) provision of state-of-the-art tools for specialist Users; (iii) improving the quality of content supplied by the global scientific community through implementation of best practice and the setting of global data standards; (iv) providing mechanisms for remote annotation of specimen records; (v) provision of a Helpdesk for researchers entering data via data portals.
Many hundreds of thousands of specimens held by SYNTHESYS Participants collections, previously considered too scientifically valuable to sample, provide the means to address questions about changes in biodiversity, impacts of climate change and the origins of human culture within Europe. The impacts of the SYNTHESYS NAs and JRA have ultimately been to vastly increase the range of specimens available to researchers across the ERA, and to improve efficiency of collections use for DNA extraction, thereby maintaining the balance of using collections to keep them relevant but also preserving them for future generations.

List of Websites:
http://www.synthesys.info/
synthesys@nhm.ac.uk