International Environmental Specimen Bank Group

Korean specimen bank archive including lab workers
© National Environmental Specimen Bank (South Korea)

The International Environmental Specimen Bank Group (IESB) promotes the worldwide development of techniques and strategies of environmental specimen banking. IESB seeks international cooperation and collaboration among almost 30 specimen banks around the globe. The IESB online service provides links to established banks and background documents on the work routine.

Journeys through time for the protection of the environment

Environmental specimen banks archive samples from the environment at ultra-low temperatures for future research and monitoring purposes. In addition, the long-term preservation of representative specimens is an important complement to environmental research. Samples that are banked today can be used by future generations to study environmental processes and how they change through time. Currently, environmental specimen banking is experiencing a renaissance due to an increase in regulatory interest in temporal and spatial data from the environment.

What are Environmental Specimen Banks?

ESBs store many millions of samples in unique frozen archives. Most of the samples are archived at ultra-low temperatures to ensure the chemical and biological integrity of the samples over long time periods. The samples cover various regions of the world, ranging from across Europe, Asia and North America to Australia, the Arctic and the Antarctic. Usually, the samples are accessible to third parties (e.g. universities) for research projects.

What samples are stored in ESBs?

Common samples from coastal and freshwater environments include fish, mussels and bird eggs. The marine environment is represented e.g. by tissue samples of stranded marine mammals. Mosses, lichens and tree specimens are used to document levels and trends in air pollutions. Other terrestrial specimens include soil, earthworms, terrestrial bird eggs and mammals. Some ESBs also sample the human population for e.g. chemical analysis in blood and urine.

What are the ESB samples used for?

The samples are authentic evidence for the biological and chemical state of the environment. The ultra-low storage temperatures provide for the integrity of the sample over very long time periods. With the help of the archived specimens, we can always go back in history and compare what was there before to what we see now. We can also apply new methods, e.g. of analytical chemistry to historical samples and understand environmental and human exposure to chemicals in a better way. Time trend analysis of archived samples can help to identify new contaminants of concern. Finally, we can check the efficacy of chemical regulation and see whether environmental concentrations are decreasing following management measures.

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