News & Blog

NEON Biorepository rolling launch update

Posted by nfranz on January 14, 2019 - 1:02pm in NEON Biorepository

Dear Research Community:

In August 2018, Arizona State University's (ASU) Biocollections and Biodiversity Knowledge Integration Center were selected by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) leadership to be the NEON Biorepository, potentially for the full 30-year duration of the project as presently designed.

Latest NEON release on the Biorepository: https://www.neonscience.org/observatory/observatory-blog/check-it-out-neon-biorepository-open-business

The NEON Biorepository is a unique collection of biological samples, for at least two reasons.

  • First, the >100,000 samples per year of 40-45 types that we are receiving are directly tied to the research design and purpose of the project, i.e., to facilitate long-term ecological monitoring/forecasting on a continental scale. Therefore, the available specimens will be representative of populations and communities in the field and associated with high-resolution environmental data.
  • Second - and this is not by any means exceptional but probably unusually critical or urgent - the samples are expected and need to be used now and very frequently to fulfill their scientific and societal promise.

One corollary of the latter point is that the National Science Foundation (NSF) - which ultimately funds NEON through an arrangement with the contractor Battelle - has placed special emphasis on funding proposals that use NEON data. For example, the "Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES)" program solicitation encourages or prioritizes the use of NEON Biorepository samples (context: specific review criteria): "The proposal makes substantive use of NEON data or resources, i.e. rely on data and/or samples collected by NEON, colocate field sites at NEON sites, and/or develop tools that will explicitly enhance the processing, use, and/or analysis of NEON data or collections within the context of Macrosystems Biology research questions".

In other words, the NEON Biorepository's constellation of samples is unique, and the urgent mandate and parallel allocation of NSF research funds to use the samples is also somewhat unusual.

We encourage researchers potentially interested in using the NEON Biorepository samples to get in touch with us. To achieve that goal, we provide some basic information below. Please feel free to contact us with other questions, and we will answer and add them to the growing list. Also please note that some answers will evolve as more of the NEON Biorepository "comes online".

  • Can I/we visit and access samples now? Yes, and this is strongly encouraged for anyone interested.
  • Are NEON Biorepository samples already on site at ASU? Yes, we have been  receiving samples on a nearly daily basis since late August 2018. We have received more than 300 multi-sample shipments from most of the 20 NEON-operated domain facilities representing the 81 sites.
  • How large is the NEON Biorepository, and what does it look like now? Currently we are accommodating NEON samples into an existing 23,000 sq. ft. collections infrastructure completed in 2014. See a slightly outdated colored floorplan is available here and photos from our grand opening. Additionally, we have a May 2019 slide presentation outlining the project and facilities.
  • What about the future? We are funded to add approximately 3,000 sq. ft. in space in the coming 2-3 years, primarily to incorporate cryo samples (in ultralow freezer farms and liquid nitrogen tanks). A longer-term master plan to add minimally 10,000 sq. ft. of NEON Biorepository space and infrastructure will be developed in 2019. This is feasible within the same "Alameda Building" and immediately adjacent to (north of) the current collections.
  • Is the NEON Biorepository already funded for the entire 30 year period? No. We expect funding to be renewed periodically, based on NSF's and Battelle's assessment of our performance and other criteria. See above - abundant, diverse, and impactful NEON sample use is likely the most obvious strategy towards continuity.
  • What is the NEON Biorepository budget like? (as in: is it adequately resourced to function and be relied upon as a research tool; not as in: wow, look at us). Currently on the order of $1 million or slightly higher annually. Including funds for personnel, equipment, materials, renovations, and other functions narrowly related to providing core NEON Biorepository services.
  • What kind of personnel is there? Besides PI Nico Franz, we have a mix of existing (ASU-funded) and new (NEON-funded) NEON Biorepository members. Some of the former are featured in a video in this ASU news release. Our current ASU Biocollections and NEON Biorepository team (in alphabetical order - last name):
  • What kinds of samples will the NEON Biorepository have?
  • How many samples will the NEON Biorepository receive each year? The table above puts us in the 100,000-110,000 samples per year range, looking forward. However, given the sample diversity, it is difficult to provide better counts for specific sample types at this point. For instance, early surveys of a subset of the ~ 3,500 per year 50 mL Falcon tubes with "Ground beetle bycatch in bulk" may on average contain 50-100 invertebrate specimens.
  • Is there more information about NEON Biorepository sample availability (location, time period, type, taxonomic identity, etc.)? In short and for now, please just contact us.
    • NEON provides general information about our scope and for researchers

    • Moreover, NEON provides "Start Dates of Data Product Collection by Field Site" link that specifies when sampling of what NEON data products (total ~ 180) initiated at which domain sites and an overview of the 81 NEON sites.

    • Through its main data portal, NEON keeps track of any/all samples that were received by the NEON Repository (once we provide this information to that portal). In the near future we will link to and provide more information on how to to use this resource.

    • In addition, we are actively developing a complementary NEON Biorepository data portal, based on the Darwin Core data standard (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029715) and the Symbiota software platform (https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.2.e1114). The URL has been established at http://biorepo.neonscience.org but access is password-protected until more functionality has been developed (expected: Summer 2019). Transforming suitable NEON samples/data into Darwin Core occurrence records will in our view strongly enhance sample discoverability, distributed annotations of new research outcomes on samples, and sample data publication and integration with other biodiversity data hubs such as iDigBio or GBIF.

  • What do the NEON Biorepository samples look like physically? A good current answer is this June  2018 photo collection from the Tucson-based Domain 14 Field Operations Office. We will share new NEON Biorepository photos regularly through social media (e.g. twitter).
  • Can samples be studied on site? Yes, and in some cases this will make a lot of sense.
    • Note. This Version 01 tries to strike a pragmatic balance between facilitating all justified sample uses now without preempting important future uses. Very likely the balance will have to be reassessed and refined for future versions. In the meantime, we are open and available to consider a maximally wide range of justified sample uses, generally and on a case-by-case basis. Starting communications about this early in the research planning process is strongly encouraged.
  • Is it necessary to have received NSF funding (specifically) in order to conduct research on NEON Biorepository samples? No. Providing samples to such funded projects will be prioritized in cases of conflict. At this moment, the vast majority of NEON Biorepository samples is awaiting (first) study.
  • Can the NEON Biorepository cover shipping costs for low-volume/exploratory sample shipments? Likely yes in many cases.
  • Can I/we expect the NEON Biorepository team to provide further aid in the discovery of specific (insufficiently identified) samples of interest? As much as our resources permit - yes.
  • Are there examples of research teams that have successfully utilized NEON Biorepository samples? Yes, but more are needed! Recent NSF Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science awards are summarized here. We would like the balance of these awards to shift towards more frequent use of NEON Biorepository samples.
  • Do you have a different question for us to address here? Contact us. Thank you!