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NSF Funds New Biodiversity Digitization Efforts

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Science Foundation has awarded around $4.2 million to fuel efforts around the country to digitize vast amounts of information on global biodiversity that currently is held in research collections. The eventual aim is to make data from all of these collections accessible online to researchers everywhere.

Funded under the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections program, the grants will fund efforts to digitize and integrate a range of different types of information, NSF said yesterday.

Much of this biodiversity information is held in research collections and has not been accessible online to the wider research community, making it what NSF calls "dark data."

These projects, spread among 65 institutions in 29 states and one territory, will conduct the digitization efforts that ultimately will lead to a resource that integrates information on the genetic and organismal levels, including molecular biology and evolutionary information.

"The collections being digitized are unprecedented in their worth to research and education and hold huge potential for future development and integration with other biological data from genomes to phenomes," John Wingfield, assistant director for Biological Sciences at NSF, said in a statement.

"With the diversity of information digitized, these projects are addressing issues of interoperability, access and analysis — 'big data.' The benefits will be felt for many generations to come," Wingfield added.

The eight new grants will fund three Thematic Collections Networks, which focus on one "grand challenge" or important scientific question, and each will support partnerships with multiple academic institutions, NSF said.

One TCN will be headed by investigators at Cornell University and will use $1.6 million to develop a centralized digital archive of animal communication signals.

University of New Hampshire investigator is to receive $1.9 million to lead a TCN that will focus on accessing 150 years of specimen data related to marine and aquatic environments.

Another TCN, led by the University of Colorado, Boulder, will receive $265,000 to focus on fossil insect resources.

The five other grants will support Partnerships to Existing Networks, enabling institutions that were not quite prepared to participate in a TCN to add to, and fill in gaps in, their collections.

The PEN grants include: $135,000 to the University of Texas, Austin, and the University of Mississippi to expand and enhance an existing TCN; $121,000 to Yale University to increase the robustness of the Ordovician and Pennsylvanian Dataset; $150,000 to Harvard University to facilitate a shared image library and occurrence database for ants; $75,000 to the University of Iowa to digitize the Iowa Museum of Natural History's Invertebrate collections; and $71,000 to Yale University and the University of Minnesota to digitize two medium-sized collections that will join the North American Bryophytes and Lichens TCN.

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