History and Purpose

Who we are: The AMNH Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research (also the Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection or AMCC) began operations in May of 2001. The AMCC provides uniform and high quality storage of frozen tissue specimens in an array of liquid nitrogen cooled vats, at temperatures below -150° Celsius. The use of liquid nitrogen offers a variety of advantages, from stability in the face of power interruptions, to achieving the extremely low temperatures necessary for long-term cryo-preservation of cells. Tissue samples are indexed using a database designed for freezer inventory management, which uses barcodes to track specimens. The electronic specimen database can accommodate over eighty different data fields for each specimen, including: the specimen's placement in the collection (vat, section, rack, box, position), taxonomic identity, morphological voucher specimen catalog number, tissue type and quantity, GenBank accession numbers, bibliographic references, and where and how the specimen was collected and by whom.

Our work: The AMCC supports a broad range of comparative genetic and genomic research initiatives. We provide researchers with collecting kits and equipment to sample and ship genetic materials. We provide access to legally collected, authoritatively identified and properly documented specimens for genetic research. In many cases, AMCC tissue specimens are linked through catalog numbers to morphological vouchers maintained in traditional departmental collections. Some specimens are harvested from living animals (both captive born and wild) and have only a tissue voucher, while still others consist simply of nucleic acid extracts. In each case, we record as much information as possible to document the sample.

Our goal: Building and maintaining biological study collections is a fundamental role of the AMNH. Permanently preserved reference collections are important sources of information about biological diversity. Specimen collection data provides information on distribution, seasonality, habitat, and more. Scientists have historically deposited morphological voucher specimens of the organism they study in natural history collections, providing a lasting record of their work. The AMCC is managed on the model of a traditional museum collection. We offer a searchable online catalog of specimen holdings.

Why a centralized repository? Tissue collections are proving to be a valuable resource to science. While storing research materials in individual laboratories during their use is an acceptable practice, it is unsuitable for safe long-term preservation. In a centrally managed repository with institutional oversight, standard procedures can be applied, and access and security can be controlled. Materials can be protected against physical disappearance, loss of integrity through freezer failure, or data dissociation.

 The storage system at the AMCC overcomes:

  • inadequate organization, inappropriate labels, and poor storage conditions that can lead to data loss or tissue degradation
  • less dependable, electricity-dependent, storage in mechanical freezers
  • technician data entry errors (AMCC data are directly imported from donor-submitted spreadsheets)