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    Microorganisms represent most of the biodiversity of living organisms in every ecological habitat. They have profound effects on the functioning of any ecosystem and, therefore, on the health of our planet and of human beings. Moreover, microorganisms are the main protagonists in food, medical and biotech industries, and have several environmental applications.Accordingly, the characterization and preservation of microbial biodiversity are essential not only for the maintenance of natural ecosystems but also for research purposes and biotechnological exploitation. In this context, culture collections (CCs) and microbial biological resource centres (mBRCs) are crucial for the safeguarding and circulation of biological resources, as well as for the progress of life sciences.

    1. Introduction

    Culture collections (CCs) and microbial Biological Resource Centres (mBRCs) play a pivotal role in the safeguarding and circulation of biological resources and are fundamental for the progress of life sciences. Both are ex-situ repositories for biodiversity and providers of useful microorganisms (living cells and their replicable parts) and related information, for research and for environmental and industrial application [1][2]. CCs reach mBRC status after having implemented the Best Practice Guidelines defined by the Organisation for Economic, Cooperation and Development (OECD) and certified and/or accredited quality-assurance processes, according to dedicated standard norms [3]. Thus, mBRCs operate in a quality-controlled manner [4]and fulfil the quality standards required by the industry and by the scientific community [5]. This makes mBRCs key elements in sustainable international scientific infrastructures for the development of biotechnology and the bioeconomy as well as in facing societal challenges.

    2. MIRRI-IT: The Italian Network of Culture Collections

    Europe has played a pioneering role in the preservation of biological resources. The first public CC was created at the end of the 19th century at the German University of Prague. Within a few years, numerous other important collections arose in several European countries, which currently support a high number of CCs and host the largest and most diverse mBRCs. Most of these CCs are corporate members of the European Culture Collections Organisation (ECCO, https://www.eccosite.org/) that was established in 1981 with the aim of promoting collaboration and exchange of ideas and information about all aspects of the activity of CCs. Actually, 250 European CCs are registered in the World Data Centre for Microorganisms (WDCM, http://www.wfcc.info/ccinfo/), whose collections house more than 1.2 million strains.

    Similar initiatives are underway in the USA [6][7][8], Asia [9] and South America [10]. The global CC community mainly interacts through the activities of the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC, https://www.wfcc.info), which actually involves 789 CCs from 77 Countries.

    These networking activities are fundamental for increasing the quality and efficiency of the management of CCs; most of these, indeed, have to face common challenges, i.e., the adoption of appropriate quality control, safety, security and legal procedures (although the latter may differ among different countries), as well as the need for taxonomic, systematic and bioinformatic expertise. Often, these challenges must be faced with limited staff resources and insufficient financial commitment, which makes it difficult to maintain high standards and to guarantee excellent services [4][7].

    Examples of these networking activities are the Microbial Information Network Europe (MINE), Common Access to Biological Resources and Information (CABRI), European Biological Resource Centre Network (EBRCN) and the European Consortium of Microbial Resource Centres (EMbaRC), at European level, and the Global Biological Resource Centre Network (GBRCN) at global level. These networks developed strategies to transform CCs into mBRCs. They made many efforts, with some relevant results, for the establishment of a suitable accreditation system, the definition of common standards and procedures, and the implementation of integrated on-line catalogues to facilitate consultation by the stakeholders.

    The most recent and important activity of collections and research institutions in Europe is MIRRI (Microbial Resource Research Infrastructure, http://www.mirri.org), which was launched in 2010 as biomedical research infrastructure within the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI, https://www.esfri.eu/) initiative. MIRRI seeks to improve access to high-quality microbial resources and to associated services and (meta)data by creating a pan-European, distributed infrastructure of CCs, mBRCs and stakeholders [2][11][12][13].

    MIRRI, in November 2018, applied for its implementation in a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) able to bring mBRC partners under a single legal umbrella supported by interested European member states. The foreseen configuration of MIRRI-ERIC currently involves 10 countries that have already signed a memorandum of understanding (Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and The Netherlands). They are called to provide financial support to the implementation of the Central Coordination Unit (CCU) that will serve as the executive management office, as well as, on a national level, their own national node (NN) and serve the needs of the national community. While the CCU is clearly defined at the European level by an agreement among interested countries, the NNs may follow various forms in order to adapt to the national context.

    Regarding the Italian scenario, there are numerous CCs, which preserve a huge amount of biological resources that include bacteria, yeasts, filamentous fungi, microalgae, protozoa, plasmids, cyanobacteria, archaea, virus, phages and cell lines. However, many of these collections, including some hosted by universities and research centres, do not follow relevant international standards, and their databases are not always accessible on-line. In some cases, their existence is known solely through publications, conferences or just personal contacts. Some collections are constituted for special purposes or within the frame of specific projects and sometimes their maintenance is strictly dependent on research targets, resources and facilities, as well as specific interests of the scientists involved. Up to now, coordination among these collections has still been limited.

    In September 2017, a joint research unit (JRU), named MIRRI-IT (Microbial Resource Research Infrastructure  Italy, http://www.mirri-it.it), was founded by the Universities of Torino, Perugia, Modena and Reggio Emilia, the IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino of Genoa, and the Italian National Research Council (CNR). Sixteen new associated members, harbouring distinct collections, joined the MIRRI network afterwards (Table 1).

    The mission of MIRRI-IT is to overcome fragmentation in the availability of resources and services offered by the Italian system of mBRCs and CCs, while enhancing the quality management system of the collections, focusing on the needs and challenges of the stakeholders interested in the biotechnological transfer of these resources. The main activities of MIRRI-IT are reported in scheme I.

    Table 1. Partners and associated members of the joint research unit MIRRI-IT.

    MIRRI-IT* Partners1 and Associated Members2

    Culture Collections

    Biological Resources

    (Main Taxa)

    Isolation Sources (Category)

    Research Centres:




    Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenibile (ENEA) 2


    ENEA collection

    Bacteria, Fungi, Microalgae, Microbial consortia, Virus

    Contaminated sites, Hypogea and archaeological sites, Food, Lake sediments, Sea, Soil, Rhizosphere, Water  

    Agenzia regionale per la ricerca in agricoltura, (Agris Sardegna) 2

    Bonassai (BNSS)

    Bacteria (Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria)

    Animals, Food

    Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) 1

    Agro-Food Microbial Culture Collection (ITEM)

    Bacteria, Filamentous fungi, Yeasts

    Air, Insects, Food, Plants, Soil


    Plant Viruses Italy (PLAVIT)

    Mycoviruses, Phytoplasmas, Phages Plant viruses

    Fungi, Plants

    IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino of Genoa 1

    Interlab Cell Line Collection (ICLC)

    Cell lines


    Istituto Nazionale Malattie Infettive (INMI) “Lazzaro Spallanzani”, Roma 2

    INMI collection

    Bacteria, Yeasts

    Humans, Clinical isolates

    Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale, Trieste (OGS) 2


    Collection of Sea Microorganisms (COSMI)

    Microalgae (predominantly Bacillariophyceae, Dinophyceae,)

    Marine environments

    Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell’Emilia Romagna (IZSLER) 2

    Biobank of Veterinary Resources (BVR)

    Cell lines, Bacteria, Fungi, Parasite, Virus

    Animals, Feed, Food, Environments

    Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZSVE) 2

    European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) Biobank

    Viruses, Antigens, Polyclonal antisera






    Sapienza University of Rome, Department of Environmental Biology 2

    Fungal Biodiversity Laboratory (FBL)

    Saprotrophic fungi

    Litter, Contaminated sites, Soil, Water

    University of Cagliari 2

    DSMSP Collection

    Bacteria, Moulds, Yeasts

    Beverages, Environments, Food

    University of Basilicata, School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences 2

    UNIBAS Yeast Collection (UBYC)


    Beverages, Food

    University of Genoa 2


    Collection of DISTAV (ColD)

    Bacteria, Fungi, Yeasts

    Extreme environments, Human cadaver

    University of Milano-Bicocca 2

    MicroMiB Culture Collection (MicroMib)

    Bacteria, Yeasts, Virus

    Humans, Environments, Food

    University of Modena and Reggio Emilia 1

    Unimore Microbial Culture Collection (UMCC)

    Bacteria (Lactic Acid Bacteria, Proteobacteria), Yeasts (Ascomycota)

    Beverages, Food

    University of Naples “Federico II”, Department of Biology 2

    Algal Collection University Federico II (ACUF)

    Cyanobacteria, Microalgae

    Aeroterrestrial habitats, Environments

    University of Palermo, Department of Agricultural, Food and Forest Sciences 2

    Herbarium SAF (SAF)


    Ascomata, Basidiomata

    University of Pavia, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences2

    Amico Fungo

    Filamentous Fungi, Yeasts

    Soil, Contaminated sites

    University of Perugia 1

    Industrial Yeasts Collection (DBVPG)

    Yeasts, Yeast-like organisms

    Foods and Beverages, Environments

    University of Sassari 2

    Microbial Culture Collection of University of Sassari (UNISS)

    Bacteria (Firmicutes, Proteobacteria), Filamentous fungi, Yeasts (Ascomycota, Basidiomycota)

    Agricultural by-products, Animals, Beverages, Environments, Food, Plants, Humans

    University of Turin 1



    Turin University Culture Collection (TUCC) including Mycotheca Universitatis Taurinenesis (MUT)

    Bacteria (Firmicutes, Lactic Acid bacteria, Proteobacteria) Filamentous fungi (Ascomycota, Basidiomycota, Mucoromycota), Yeasts

    Animal and human clinical Samples, Extreme environments, Food

    University of Tuscia, Department of Ecological and Biological Sciences 2

    Culture Collection of Fungi from Extreme Environments (CCFEE)

    Filamentous and Meristematic fungi, Lichens, Yeasts

    Monuments, Contaminated sites, Rocks, Soil


    Microorganisms 07 00685 sch001 550

    Scheme I. Main activities of the joint research unit MIRRI-IT.

    The publication can be found here: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/7/12/685/htm


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