The biodiversity of microorganisms: EMbaRC, a European program for the conservation and promotion of microbial resources

A European consortium of microbial resource centers was launched on March 18, 2009. Known as EMbaRC, its particular objective is to harmonize systems of keeping and identifying bacteria and microscopic fungi in the different European countries, and also to develop DNA banks and strengthen bio-security. In this way it aims to encourage the conservation and promotion of microbial biodiversity.



Press release
Paris, march 18, 2009



INRA, the Institut Pasteur and similar organizations in Europe (Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal) numbering ten institutions in total, have decided to work in close collaboration, on the one hand to harmonize their methods of conserving microorganisms, in particular for freeze-drying and freezing – the two main conservation procedures for bacteria – and on the other hand to standardize and develop their identification methods. DNA banks, which are of increasing importance to the scientific community, will also be set up. In this field, there are various different methods of storing DNA, and these will need to be assessed and compared, since the eventual aim of the consortium is to compile a collection of microorganism DNA. In parallel with these different projects, the centers wish to put in place common bio-security guidelines.

“The quality of bio-resources is essential in the research undertaken to characterize and promote biodiversity. Contributing to the sustainability of collections and to their long-term financing is one of EMbaRC’s main objectives” explained Sylvie Lortal, head of the International Center of Microbial Sources – Food-Related Bacteria (CIRM-BIA) at INRA. Over 10,000 microbial strains are listed in the CIRM, and represent only a part of INRA’s collections.

“A collection of microorganisms is not a museum piece and is not static. It must be constantly enhanced and new methods of conservation and identification must be developed”, added Chantal Bizet, manager of the Biological Resource Center at the Institut Pasteur (CRBIP). At the Paris research center, CRBIP has collected a total of 20,000 strains of virus, cyanobacteria, microscopic fungi and bacteria, including the oldest preserved bacterial strain in the world – isolated in 1892!

Resources for the future…

The resulting aim is to achieve optimum preservation of the collections of microorganisms in their various forms (whole microorganisms, DNA, etc.). These Biological Resource Centers have considerable value. The microorganisms they contain have applications in academic research, teaching, the agri-food and pharmaceutical industries, hospitals – in particular their testing laboratories, etc.

Take, for example, new vaccines currently under development. It can be useful to work on bacterial strains from the pre-antibiotic era, as they have never undergone the selective pressure exerted by the molecules in question. It is therefore necessary to recover strains that have been conserved for more than 70 years. To take another example: the development of antibiograms, which requires the use of different strains of the same bacterium to represent its diversity.

Collections of microorganisms are absolutely not museum pieces, but rather precious resources, important for research and public health. Sharing and coordinating conservation, identification and characterization methods relating to the microbial resources for these collections will encourage the preservation and promotion of the biodiversity that they represent.


EMbaRC brings together 10 partners from 7 European countries. The scientific coordination of this project is provided jointly by INRA (Sylvie Lortal) and the Institut Pasteur (Chantal Bizet). The European Commission is financing this three-year research infrastructure project (2009 – 2012) via the 7th Framework Program. The financing granted by Europe amounts to €4.2 M for a total estimated cost of €5.5 M.


N°  Organism  Country
1  Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique INRA  France
2  Institut Pasteur IP  France
3  Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH DSMZ  Germany
4  CAB INTERNATIONAL  CABI International headquartered in the United Kingdom
5  Universitat de València UVEG-CECT  Spain
6  Service Public Fédéral de Programmation Politique scientifique SPP-PS  Belgium
7  Universidade do Minho Uminho-MUM  Portugal
9  Universiteit Gent UGent
10  Université Catholique de Louvain UCL   Belgium

Contact persons:
Sciences contacts :

Sylvie Lortal – EMbaRC Coordinator
INRA-Agrocampus Ouest Joint Research Unit
“Science and Technology of Milk and Eggs”
INRA Center, Rennes
Tel: +33 (0)2 23 48 53 21 -

Chantal Bizet – Vice-coordinator, EMbaRC
Biological Resource Center, Institut Pasteur,
Tel: +33 (0)1 45 68 87 75 -

Press contacts :

INRA Press Office
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 75 91 69
or presse@inra.

Institut Pasteur Press Office
Corinne Jamma (+33 (0)1 40 61 33 41) or Nadine Peyrolo (+33 (0)1 45 68 81 47) –