Hundreds of bacteria, fungi and yeast species, mostly collected from the wilds of Brazil, have been made available to researchers looking for new chemicals with scientific or industrial applications thru the newly formed Microbe Bank.
The microbe bank — dubbed the Brazilian Collection of Environmental and Industrial Microorganisms — is housed at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and was inaugurated on 24 February.
”We intend to put this collection at the service of the scientific and industrial community, by preserving, identifying, maintaining and distributing these microorganisms,” says biologist Lara Sette, the collection’s curator.
Among the potentially valuable chemicals microorganisms produced are antibiotics, anti-cancer compounds and enzymes with industrial applications, such as those capable of cleaning up pollutants.
Researchers began collecting specimens two years ago, and have amassed 700 types of microorganisms to date, but have facilities for maintaining 12,000.
The collection includes microorganisms originating in soil, water and plants in different Brazilian ecosystems, such as the Atlantic rainforest and the cerrado, a kind of savanna. Other specimens were isolated from petroleum reserves and oil fields.
The Unicamp team also developed software for managing information about the microorganisms, such as their identity, place of origin, conditions needed to grow them in laboratory conditions, photographs and information on their genetic material.
Sette says it is important to preserve the microorganisms under controlled laboratory conditions because otherwise their genetic material could become unstable and they could stop producing their potentially valuable chemicals after four or five years.
Among the techniques the Unicamp team will use to preserve their specimens are freeze-drying and freezing in liquid nitrogen at -180 degrees Celsius.