The Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History maintains a collection of tissue samples. The Department wishes to treat the use of this collection as it does use of other expendable collections, such as anatomical specimens stored in alcohol, namely, with an open policy of reciprocal loans to similar institutions that maintain collections and promote specimen-based research. However, the Department recognizes that many potential users of tissue samples are not associated with museums. Consequently, it is prepared to loan tissue samples to non-traditional users of specimens in circumstances in which the researchers have important research projects underway and in which those researchers are sympathetic to collection-based research and the continuing need for maintenance, improvement, and additions to museum collections.

Most tissue samples in the Department of Ornithology have been acquired in association with specific research projects initiated by and continuing in the laboratories of active members of the curatorial staff. Only a portion of the Department's tissue holdings were obtained as a result of general collecting. Consequently, not all tissues will be available to borrowers, and tissue samples will be loaned only upon evaluation of the project for which the samples are requested. Unlike some preparations of birds, tissue samples are eventually used up; thus, it is the responsibility of the curatorial staff to conserve tissue and ensure its wise usage.

Occasionally, researchers may request pieces from skins or other traditional specimens for molecular research projects. Such requests will be made in the same way as described below for frozen or buffered tissue samples. However, such requests will be evaluated on a more stringent basis, because all such uses inevitably lead to a reduction in usefulness of the original specimen, due to loss of feathers or skin, rough handling and manipulation, etc. In general, we will provide samples from traditional specimens strictly as supplementary material, following the successful completion of the rest of a research project. The researcher making such a request has an onus to provide reasons why a particular specimen is required and why a fresh tissue sample cannot be procured.


All loans of tissue samples are made to institutions. An institutional representative (this will be a Professor or Curator in the case of a loan to a graduate student) will request on letterhead a loan of tissue samples. The following will be an integral part of the request:

  •  A brief description of the project for which the tissues will be used. The description should include the techniques to be used and evidence that those techniques are already being employed successfully in the laboratory of the investigator.
  • Evidence of the credentials and other qualifications of the researcher to perform the project.
  • A list of the tissue samples being requested from AMNH, a justification of the number and types of tissues requested (why these tissues are unavailable from wild or captive sources), and the amount of tissue required.
  • A discussion of the tissues collected by the investigator for the project.
  • A discussion of the contribution that other institutions will make to the tissue needs of the project. Copies of the requisite permits for obtaining, possessing, and working with avian tissues. For domestic researchers, this may include permits to possess migratory birds and endangered species, as well as the USDA APHIS permit for translocation of tissues within the United States. For foreign researchers, this may include import permits required by their government and CITES import permits. The requesting institution will provide a written statement that all necessary permits have been obtained.
  • The application will be evaluated by members of the curatorial staff of the Department of Ornithology. The criteria for potential approval of loans include:
    • scientific value and feasibility of the project
    • qualifications of the researcher
    • need for the specific samples requested
    • evidence that the investigator is contributing to the general availability of genetic resources in the avian research community
    • approval of the original collector of the tissue sample, if appropriate 

Upon approval of a loan request and receipt of the signed loan letter (see below), tissues will be sent by appropriate means. If special shipping conditions are requested, the recipient institution must provide these expenses. 

Conditions of loans

In exchange for a loan of tissue samples from the Department of Ornithology, the recipient must agree to the following conditions (a form letter will be forwarded for the signature of the recipient, upon approval of a loan request):

  • Transfer of tissues
    • Tissues are loaned for the sole use of the investigator requesting the samples, specifically for the project approved by the curatorial staff of the Department of Ornithology. The tissue is not to be further loaned to other investigators at the requesting institution, nor is any part of it or of any product derived from the loan including DNA extractions and synthetic DNA (e.g., genomic libraries) to be transferred to any third institution, without permission from the Department.
  • Commercial agreement
    • The recipient of a loan of tissue samples must agree that the tissue sample and any results stemming from its use will not be used for any commercial purpose. All commercial rights for any discovery associated with a tissue sample on loan from the American Museum of Natural History remain the property of the AMNH, or as stipulated in agreements the AMNH may have established with foreign governments in originally acquiring the specimens.
  • Acknowledgements and reprints
    • The recipient of a loan of tissue samples will acknowledge the collections of the American Museum of Natural History in all publications that report primary results of laboratory work with those samples. Two copies of all publications resulting from work on tissue samples loaned by the AMNH will be sent to the Department of Ornithology.
  • Return of unused tissue
    • Loaned tissues remain the property of the AMNH. Upon completion of the specified project, all unused material, including purified DNA, must be returned to the Department of Ornithology.
  • Voucher numbers
    • If DNA sequences from loaned tissues are deposited in GenBank or any other genetic data bank, they must be accompanied by the tissue number and AMNH voucher specimen number associated with the tissue sample.