In addition to advancing current research aims, modern molecular research techniques create new research opportunities by both promoting targeted sampling in the field and recruiting existing collections housed in places like natural history museums and zoos. Unfortunately, the preservation techniques historically used to store these specimens may preclude research access to high-quality genomic DNA.
Going forward, biodiversity repositories invested in compiling a “synoptic sample of life on earth” must coordinate their efforts in order to acquire high-quality genomic DNA samples representative of the millions of known and unknown species before they disappear. To this end, the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) emerged in 2011, as discussed by authors Droege et al.1
The GGBN is an unincorporated, international network whose members adhere to a memorandum of cooperation. Currently, the member institutions comprise DNA and tissue banks residing in natural history or culture collections, but membership is open to all biodiversity biobanks. These could include animal or crop genetic resource banks, seed banks, gene banks and governmental or academic organizations associated with genomic biodiversity. The network aims to combine morphological and molecular techniques to increase identified, vouchered genomic samples for referenced databases.
Indeed, a growing set of databases—the GGBN Data Portal—is central to the GGBN’s goals. The network indicates that this portal enhances discoverability of genomic samples by offering researchers access to DNA or tissue samples and by monitoring sample availability. This allows researchers to assess sample availability for specific projects, identify gaps in the database and direct future strategic sampling to fill these gaps. This is especially critical for researchers interested in documenting the genetic blueprint of threatened species. According to Droege et al., 20 of the current 50 members of the GGBN already use the portal to share data.
Of course, one of the major requirements for effective networking is harmonizing standard operating procedures across all participant institutions along the entire chain of command for each sample, from sample collection to processing, documentation and data distribution. The GGBN offers tools to ensure this harmonization as well as access and benefit sharing compliance, as required by the Nagoya Protocol. These include a code of conduct, recommendations for best practices and implementation tools (e.g., standard material transfer agreements, mandatory and/or recommended data fields for collection databases). The network also offers the GGBN Library, which serves as a collaboration platform specifically focused on sharing best practices among members.
Finally, the GGBN offers a flexible data standard to enhance communication within the biodiversity community. While depositing data at the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration platform is standard for publication, no common language existed to ensure harmonized information exchange for genomic samples. For this reason, the GGBN created the GGBN Data Standard—a set of controlled vocabularies representative of sample data. The authors note that the data standard includes the molecular terms from the Minimum Information about any (X) Sequence (MIxS) specification and can incorporate both data standards used by human biobanks: Standard PREanalytical Code (SPREC) and Biospecimen Reporting for Improved Study Quality (BRISQ). The GGBN submitted this data standard for endorsement and ratification by the Genomic Standards Consortium and the Biodiversity Information Standards Taxonomic Databases Working Group, respectively, with the goal of acceptance as an official data standard for natural history collections.
The authors report that the GGBN offers an infrastructure to enhance discoverability and accessibility of genomic samples while also identifying gaps in availability. They further highlight the GGBN Data Standard for streamlining research aims by providing a common vocabulary for data sharing, ensuring compliance with the Nagoya Protocol. Overall, they indicate the expectation that the GGBN will become a self-sustaining entity and an invaluable resource for all members of the scientific community interested in biodiversity research.
1. Droege, G., et al. (2016) “The Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) Data Standard specification,” doi: 10.1093/database/baw125.