Genetic Resources

The Genetic Resources Collection is a world-class resource that supports molecular phylogenetic and evolution studies of University of Texas researchers and collaborators, as well as the research community worldwide. It includes >40,000 samples housed in -80 ultracold freezers and liquid nitrogen storage tanks. The latter provides a secure form of storage in which the samples will be useful for decades.

The collection is a centralized repository used by the international, non-profit, and research community. The largest percentage of samples are of amphibians and reptiles. The contributions from Ichthyology and Entomology are growing rapidly.

The advent of molecular biology has enhanced the use of museum collections. Formerly, museum scientists prepared specimens by injection with formaldehyde to stop decomposition, as in the case of amphibians, reptiles, and fish. Or, they prepared dry skin and skeleton specimens from birds and mammals, discarding the internal organs.

Today the preservation of tissues from the brain, liver, and muscle during fieldwork is routine. You will find scientists in remote forests with canisters of liquid nitrogen, which is used to freeze samples. These tissues are used as sources of DNA for evolutionary studies. So in addition to actual collections of animal specimens, the scientists are building collections of genetic resources.

The collection was assembled over 30 years, beginning at a time when few such resources existed, through the efforts of Integrative Biology professor David Hillis, long before their value was appreciated. Most are from amphibians and reptiles, with some from insects, fishes, birds, and mammals. The tissue samples represent years of field research by faculty and graduate students, not just in the U.S. but across the world. Countries of emphasis include Mexico, Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia.


Re-building such a collection today would be impossible. Many species from which samples were collected 30 years ago are now extinct.

The collections support research by many undergraduate and graduate students in systematics, ecology and evolutionary biology. In the course of a project, the researchers may assemble new tissue samples from fieldwork. These samples are then integrated into the collection so that they serve both as a voucher to verify the original research, and also as potential research material for the future.

Results from the published genetic research, primarily the DNA sequences from various genes, are deposited by researchers into GenBank, a federally funded public database of genetic data. Genbank is a crucial link between the published research paper and the actual data derived from the genetic resources. Likewise, the Genetic Resources Collection at UT is an equally important link between GenBank information and the specimens from which the samples were taken.

The Genetic Resources Collection was transferred to the care of the Biodiversity Collections (then Texas Natural History Collections) as part of a databasing project funded by the National Science Foundation. We have databased the entire collection, and are in the process of integrating these data with the original data associated with the specimen in the museum collections.

Tissue Grant Policy
  1. Grants are given only to researchers who agree to the following requests or obligations, as described in the Letter of Agreement.
  2. Tissues are granted for a specific project, not for unrestricted use.
  3. The approval of a tissue grant may depend upon volume of tissue requested and rarity of the species.
  4. Grantees who have failed to publish results and deposit sequences in genetic databanks may be denied future grants of material.
  5. Depending on the nature and size of the request, the grantee may be asked to bear the shipping costs. For large requests, the grantee may be asked to supply labeled tubes. These conditions will be indicated in the Letter of Agreement.
  6. If approved, the grant will be processed upon receipt of the *Letter of Agreement*.
  7. Grants will be denied to researchers (and their students) who have not made good use of samples in the past or who have not fulfilled grant requirements.
Policy Rationale

The policy governing the use of genetic samples is intended to provide fair access to the collection. It is based on the following:

The Genetic Resources Collection consists mainly of material assembled by the Biodiversity Collections researchers and University of Texas faculty for support of specific projects. This material is primarily intended for use by these researchers, although we commonly grant use of these tissues to other researchers. Certain donated specimens are for general community use, except when restricted by the donor.

Tissue samples are an expendable resource; tissue loans are termed “grants” because of their consumable nature. Thus, requests are evaluated depending on the amount of tissue requested and the intended use.

Grantees are expected to publish the results of research and deposit sequences derived from the tissues in Genbank and other appropriate repositories.

Tracking the use of loaned samples documents the usefulness of this material, and therefore is important for obtaining funding for research projects that make these samples available. Reporting the use of the material also fulfills permit requirements.

Donated tissues must be accompanied by either a museum invoice or copies of appropriate permits (e.g., U.S. collecting permit or a country-of-origin export permit). Tissues without voucher specimens and collection data have limited value, because there is no way to verify identification or perform complementary studies in anatomy, geographic variation, etc.

The Genetic Resources Collection operates in strict accordance with all relevant laws, and regulations regarding the transport of such material.

Procedures for Requesting Tissues

Specific samples are requested in writing on institutional letterhead from the Curator of Herpetology, David C. Cannatella. Graduate students should submit a letter co-signed by their advisor, who is equally responsible for the samples. If the tissue request is approved, a Letter of Agreement will be mailed to the researcher. The request will be processed upon receipt of the Agreement and in order of receipt in relation to other approved loans, with the caveat that in-house tissue requests receive priority.

A tissue request should provide the following information:

  1. A brief outline of the goals, methods, and time frame of the project, justifying the use of the samples. If your project is supported by grant funds, please provide source and title of project. What steps have already been made to initiate this project?
  2. A list of the requested specimens by taxon and locality (or catalog number, if known). Please specify the amount of tissue/extract required and preferred preservation for shipment (e.g., frozen on dry ice, suspended in 95% EtOH, or in DMSO buffer).
  3. The total number of tissues to be used in the project, in addition to the UT contribution. Please specify the number of tissues per taxon that will be collected by the researcher, or requested from other institutions. Indicate current status of acquisition of required specimens.
  4. Indicate how you prefer your shipment to be sent. To avoid potential complications via the USPS irradiation policies (although little mail is currently being irradiated, there is the risk that any USPS shipment could be irradiated), we will be shipping via DHL or Federal Express. If another carrier is preferred, please include name and a current account number.
  5. Copy of CITES institutional permit (if necessary).
  6. Contact information: mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and email address.

A committee that includes David Cannatella and Travis LaDuc will evaluate the tissue request.

Questions about the Policy should be directed to the Curator of the Genetic Resources Collection, David Cannatella.