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Culture Volume 36 Number 2

Julie E. Russell1

Evolving A National Culture Collection To Meet Current Challenges In Microbiology

Reproducibility is essential in microbiology, so access to a reliable source of reference strains is critical. They enable harmonization and repeatability within and between microbiology laboratories on a day-to-day basis and over extended time periods.

So how is a reference culture collection maintained, and how can it evolve to support developing challenges in microbiology such as antimicrobial resistance? 

Julie Russell explains how the UK National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC), the most long-established collection in the world created with the specific purpose of providing microorganisms for other scientists, stays current and how historic strains are shedding light on mechanisms of antibiotic resistance.

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1. Public Health England's Culture Collections, Porton Down, Salisbury, SP4 OJG, UK.

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About the author

Julie Russell

Julie Russell is Head of Public Health England’s Culture Collections. After undertaking a Degree in Applied Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University, she went on to complete an MSc in Medical Microbiology from University of Surrey, UK.

Initially working as a Biomedical scientist at North Middlesex Hospital and then St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, she moved to the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale, England, in 1991. She spent the next 20 years setting up, developing and organizing the proficiency testing schemes, and reference materials, for food and water microbiology. In 2011 she was appointed Head of Culture Collections at Public Health England. Her special interest in microbial preservation techniques has proved invaluable for her current and previous roles, and she has published papers in this field.

I wanted to work in the public sector and contribute to health improvement. My sandwich degree enabled me to work for six months as a microbiology trainee in Arrowe Park Hospital (Wirral, UK) and I found the work fascinating.

The most interesting aspect of my research has related to LENTICULE discs, developed by a colleague, Dr Arthur Codd, in the 1990’s. This technology allows us to preserve microorganisms at very specific levels—important in food and water microbiology.

The race to beat antimicrobial resistance: in particular the potential for whole genome sequencing and proteomic technologies in understanding microbial virulence and the evolution of antimicrobial resistance.

The variety—my current and previous role required that I generate sufficient income to cover all the operational costs, so I need to have a keen business sense, scientific understanding, communication skills, and also be able to manage a high-performing team of people with multiple skills.

No such thing as a typical day—I could be working at our Porton Down site developing strategy with the team, or at Colindale working with colleagues to ensure we have the most scientifically relevant microorganisms in our collection, or I could be in another country presenting information about the importance of reproducible results in science.

Next challenges are to lead the team to complete the NCTC 3000 project, meet our responsibilities for establishing the first European Bank for Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and deliver our proteomic strategy for the National Infections Service in PHE.

Control your control strains—document the date of receipt of the culture and the passage numbers (how many times you have sub-cultured the strain). Don’t use cultures that are more than four passages from the original strain and always replace NCTC cultures that appear to have been contaminated or look atypical.

Yes, NCTC will use WGS as part of the routine quality control and authentication procedures for strain authentication after the NCTC project is completed.

Find out more at http://www.phe-culturecollections.org.uk

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