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Final Report Summary - SYNTHESYS3 (Synthesis of systematic resources)

SYNTHESYS3 has created an accessible and integrated European resource for researchers in the natural sciences in Europe and globally, providing access to leading European natural history (NH) collections held in museums and herbaria. These collections are world-class in terms of their geographic and taxonomic coverage, representing a unique infrastructure in Europe as a model of the natural world. Collections provide baseline data with which the research community addresses global challenges such as biodiversity loss, food security and sustainable supply of raw materials.
Present and future access to European NH collections relies on specimens and their accompanying data being well-preserved and widely accessible both now and in the long-term. As technologies have developed, new collections are growing within NH institutions in two forms: (1) virtual collections (e.g. digital, scanning electron microscope and video images, metadata, CT scans, chemical analytical data, DNA barcodes, genomic information) and (2) new physical collections (e.g. frozen tissue, DNA, RNA). These new collections increase demand from the User community, necessitating improved management and access. Over four years SYNTHESYS3 has supported 1,110 research projects of physical users of the collections via its Transnational Access programme. SYNTHESYS3 Users are addressing global research issues including environmental and climate change and climate modelling, soil biodiversity, marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem functioning, mineral deposit distribution and food security. Largely through taxonomic and systematic studies, Users delivered new and improved baseline bio- and geo-diversity data, and built new collaborations during the project to generate and add value to existing collections. 11,030 days of Access have been provided to 17 consortium institutions in 11 European countries. Users have recorded >1,400 research outputs which have already led to delivery of 460 peer reviewed papers (currently accepted, in press or published), 18 books/monographs and support to > 60 PhD student theses.
The SYNTHESYS3 Joint Research Activity (JRA) has focused on extracting and enhancing data from digitised collections. It has (i) developed and delivered open source software: Inselect that can recognise, process and annotate images that contain multiple specimens (e.g. whole drawer scans of pinned insects or slide arrays); (ii) developed 3D techniques to digitise NH objects to give researchers tools to undertake their research without the need of the physical object; (iii) reviewed and utilised innovative methods of data capture via technology and via crowdsourcing, and (iv) provided open access to major research datasets. These innovations have greatly incrased access to digitised collections, increasing the democratisation of research by giving all researchers equal opportunity to do high quality research with digital objects regardless of their location.
Networking Activity 2 has focused on improving collections management and accessibility of new physical and virtual collections, producing protocols, best practice guides and policies that are openly available. This enables NH institutions to maximise the use of their existing resources whilst avoiding duplication of effort. NA2 has (i) developed policies for virtual and new physical collections management; (ii) produced best practice and standards for 3D imaging of NH specimens; (iii) developed strategic priorities for barcoding and DNA library creation of NH collections; (iv) developed high throughput protocols for data collection through DNA extraction; (v) strengthened networks of DNA and tissue banks; and (vi) developed the collections self-assessment tool providing benchmarks for management of digital and molecular collections. Networking Activity 3 has utilised the consortium network to achieve innovation, impact and sustainability. NA3 has: (i) reviewed optimal digitisation technologies and procedures, (ii) tested crowdsourcing feasibility for digitisation (iii) promoted and disseminated SYNTHESYS3 outputs, (iv) fostered relationships with industry, and (v) collaborated to train users in new technological advances in digitisation via workshops and openly available, multlingual training videos. Reviewing a series of evidenced use cases has demonstrated how NH collections, expertise and services can be used to find solutions to a range of societal challenges. This constituted the first element for building a roadmap for the future access policy of European NH institutions and has been a critical step in the development of the new pan-European NH collections research infrastructure DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections,, an ESFRI initiative which has been built on a foundation of SYNTHESYS activities.

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