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CREDIT Trustees of the Natural History Museum

SYNTHESYS+ launches at the Natural History Museum, integrating natural science collections across Europe

A network of prominent science institutions across Europe, led by the Natural History Museum, have joined forces through a European Commission funded project to ensure scientific collections meet their full potential.

SYNTHESYS+ brings together the European branches of several global natural science organisations with an unprecedented number of collections, to integrate, innovate and internationalise our research. The program supports cutting edge research into finding solutions to the most important challenge humans face over the next 30 years – mapping a sustainable future in which people and planet thrive.

The launch comes at a particularly pivotal time as the natural world faces unprecedented threats such as such as climate change, air and water pollution, species extinction and biodiversity loss. Natural science collections make a unique contribution to tackling these challenges, containing an estimated 1.5 billion specimens in Europe, collected over 250 years of human exploration. Data from these collections can tell us how the earth and its natural systems formed over 4.65 billion years, and of the impact of human life on the natural world over the past few thousand years.

SYNTHESYS+ is working to unlock this data and share this information on a global scale, creating a unmatched research tool enabling scientists to study examples of the rich diversity of life around the globe and across time.

Dr Vincent Smith, Research Leader at the Museum and Coordinator of SYNTHESYS+ said, “Since 2004 SYNTHESYS has been an essential instrument supporting the European Natural Science collections community. Our work has underpinned new ways to access and exploit collections, making their operation more efficient and providing significant new insights for thousands of researchers.”

SYNTHESYS+ is the fourth iteration of this programme, and represents a step change in evolution of this community. Major new developments addressed by SYNTHESYS+ include the delivery of a new digital access programme, deploying cutting-edge artificial intelligence to dramatically speed collections digitisation, and the construction of a unified gateway to European collections, integrating digital, physical and molecular access to collections.

To date SYNTHESYS has supported 51,000 days of research activity across 4,000 separate projects, generating close to 5,000 publications including books, monographs, peer-reviewed papers and theses.  Examples of recent research include projects to understand the distribution and transmission of West Nile Virus from mosquito collections; indicators of plastic and metal pollution by studying the dental and skeletal pathology of marine mammal collections and detection of contaminant seeds in Sardinian irrigated crops to decrease the impact of alien plants.

Funded by the European Community Research Infrastructure Activity, physical users of the collections are addressing global research issues including climate change and climate modelling, soil biodiversity, marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem functioning, mineral deposit distribution and food security.

SYNTHESYS+ contributes to the newly formed Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) infrastructure, involving 115 European institutions across 21 European countries.

The current SYNTHESYS programme commenced on 1 February 2019 and will run until 31 January 2023. For more information, visit www.synthesys.info.  

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The Natural History Museum exists to inspire a love of the natural world and unlock answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet. It is a world-leading science research centre, and through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling issues such as food security, eradicating diseases and managing resource scarcity. The Natural History Museum is the most visited natural history museum in Europe and the top science attraction in the UK; we welcome around five million visitors each year and our website receives over 500,000 unique visitors a month. People come from around the world to enjoy our galleries and events and engage both in-person and online with our science and educational activities through innovative programmes and citizen science projects.

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