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Biodiversity initiative

Musca domestica

Follow our posts for the latest news from the Biodiversity initiative, including recent publications, awards, conferences and updates from the field.

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Feb 26, 2015 Deep diving and the greatest library on Earth

On Wed 14 January 2014, the Museum welcomed a guest speaker to present a special science seminar. Richard Pyle of Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, spoke about:


...the number of species on planet Earth that remain unknown to science exceeds (perhaps vastly) the number of species that have so far been discovered, let alone formally documented... Within the global biodiversity library, we are at this point in human history like toddlers running through the halls of the Library of Congress, largely unaware of the true value of the information that surrounds us... Taxonomists are the librarians, developing new tools to build the card catalog for the Greatest Library on Earth... What we accomplish within the next twenty years will impact the quality of life for humans over the next twenty thousand years.


Richard is an ichthyologist exploring extreme deep reef habitats, a bioinformatician and an ICZN Commissioner, a SCUBA re-breather engineer and and a two-time, two-topic TED Speaker. Watch the film of Rich's fascinating talk in the Museum's Flett Theatre:


Feb 18, 2015 Sampling Oxford University Natural History Museum | The Microverse

This blog post is a guest blog from the Natural History Investigators at Oxford Univeristy Natural History Museum (OUNHM).  After visiting us in London, to find out more about The Microverse research and to support us in our development of the project, museum educator Sarah Lloyd, took the project back to Oxford to involve students at both the OUNHM and the Oxford University Botanic Garden.  Here is what the Natural History Investigators got up to.


One snowy Saturday morning we unpacked our Microverse pack and lay out the scientific looking contents.  We are Natural History Investigators, a group of 14 to 16 year olds who meet every Saturday morning at OUNHM. We carry out our own research using Museum specimens. Before we begin our individual project work, we always spend some time doing something together. We've been into the Museum's spirit store, we have handled live tarantulas, but this week we were to collect samples to contribute to The Microverse project.



Investigator, Gemma George investigating the similarities and differences between domestic and wild cats.


We divided the tasks amongst the group. Three of us were photographers. Six of us were keen to glove up and become swabbers and sample collectors.  We read through our instructions carefully and began collecting the grime that has accumulated on the outside of the neo-gothic museum building since 1860. We were very thorough and very efficient. Freezing temperatures definitely focus the mind!



Abdullah Nassar collects samples from the north wall of the Museum.


With everything packaged up we eagerly wait to find out how many species exist in this special environment. Our individual projects have been based on things we can observe and hold in our hands.  So we are really keen to find out more about the process of studying life that you can't see or hold!


Natural History Investigators, OUNHM




I can confirm that the samples from OUNHM have arrived at the Museum's laboratory.  Our lab assistant Filipa will be starting the PCR process very soon and then they will go into the sequencer.  In just a couple of weeks we'll be able to send the results back the Natural History Investigators, for them to explore.


Jade Lauren

Feb 7, 2015 Microbes on London's iconic buildings | The Microverse

I bet you have never wondered what microorganisms are living on London's iconic buildings. I certainly hadn't given it much thought until this August when I joined Dr Anne Jungblut, Lucy Robinson and volunteers Josie Buerger and Stephen Chandler, for an urban field trip. We visited four of London's iconic buildings to collect microorganisms and find out what on earth is living there. This would be the start of our citizen science project, The Microverse; a scientific exploration of the microbes that occupy our built environment across the UK.



The Microverse team collecting samples from Westminster Abbey. Image credit: Josie Buerger


The Tower of London, The Gherkin, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey all kindly accepted our request to swab their walls and DNA sequence the biofilms that we found. We carefully selected different types of building material and different sides of the buildings, so we could compare the community of microorganisms from these different aspects of the built environment. We took samples from different aged buildings, from cleaned and un-cleaned walls and even from the roof of St Paul's Cathedral.



Collecting samples from St. Paul's Cathedral.


Samples were collected by dampening a cotton wool swab with sterile water and then rubbing this swab against the surface of the wall. The head of the cotton wool swab was then put into a tube of DNA preservative. Samples were stored in the freezer of the Museum until they could be DNA sequenced in the labs. We are currently analysing the lab results to see what communities of microorganisms were living on the different buildings. Will The Gherkin have less microorganisms than the Tower of London? Will south facing walls have more microorganisms than north facing walls? We hope to tell you what we have found very soon.



Dr Anne Jungblut adding sample to DNA preservative at Tower of London. Image credit: Josie Buerger.


The Microverse is a citizen science project, suitable for A-level Biology students or equivalent, and community groups. The project takes you out of the classroom to gather microorganisms for DNA analysis, as part of our cutting edge research into the biodiversity and ecology of the microbial world. It's free to participate and you can find out more about the project and how to take part here.


Jade Lauren

Biodiversity staff


Alfried Vogler (lead)

Paul Eggleton (tropical entomology)

Alex Monro (tropical botany)

Neil Brummitt (spatial biodiversity)

Martijn Timmermans (genomics)



Max Barclay (entomology)

Beulah Garner (entomology)

Jackie Mackenzie-Dodds (molecular collections facility)


UK Biodiversity

Angela Marmont Centre

John Tweddle (citizen science)