Great at small things: BCCM stores microorganisms, plasmids, hybridomas, and more!

December 14, 2022 Sponsored Quality by Design - Business & Communications

BCCM is a Belgian non-profit consortium of seven biological resource centers preserving and distributing microbial and genetic resources, offering storage and scientific services for both academia and industry. These world-class collections are exceptional in terms of the number and variety of specimens and excellent quality control. BCCM’s confidential deposit services are a great way for companies to store genetic material and microorganisms for safety or patent purposes, including hybridomas and other cell lines.

By Amy LeBlanc

There are many reasons a scientist may need to source or store cells and genetic material. They may need access to a specific type of fungi for research purposes, help identifying a bacterial strain, to express recombinant proteins, or to keep a precious cell line safe in long-term storage. Fortunately, Belgium is home to a world-class consortium meeting all of these needs: the Belgian Co-ordinated Collections of Micro-organisms (BCCM).

BCCM is a government-funded consortium managing both publicly available and confidential microbial and genetic collections for the benefit of academia and industry. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023, the consortium consists of seven centers spread between Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels, each affiliated with a leading academic institution (Ghent University, Sciensano, Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, Université catholique de Louvain, and the University of Liège) and embedded in world-class research labs. The centers are specialized in different types of materials, including: recombinant expression plasmids and their host strains; hybridomas and other cell lines; diatoms and microalgae; medical-, food- and environmental yeasts and fungi; myco- and cyanobacteria; as well as other genetic material (e.g. certain viruses, bacteriophages, etc.).

“With such a big variety of organisms and plasmids, we’re definitely among the largest collections in the world. Both companies and academics come from all around the world to use our services.” – Wouter De Schamphelaire

Wouter De Schamphelaire, curator safe and patent deposit collection at BCCM/GeneCorner, explains how unique the consortium is:

“Most countries have at least one culture collection, but in most cases each collection only focuses on one or two types of material. To have a consortium comprising so many different types of microorganisms is quite rare. With such a big variety of organisms and plasmids, we’re definitely among the largest collections in the world. Both companies and academics come from all around the world to use our services.”

Public collection: myriads of microorganisms, recombinant plasmids and their host strains

BCCM’s services primarily focus on distribution, identification and storage of genetic material, microorganisms, and specific cell lines. Any scientist, whether from academia or industry, can deposit microbial strains and recombinant plasmids for free in the public collections, where the contents undergo quality controls and are then made available to any researcher in the world. The collections are huge, currently encompassing more than 100,000 microbial strains and more than 216,000 recombinant plasmids.

“BCCM’s public culture collections are a treasure trove of biological material.” – Wouter De Schamphelaire

“BCCM’s public culture collections are a treasure trove of biological material,” says De Schamphelaire. “Sometimes people come to us because they simply can’t find the specimen they need anywhere else, but people also come to us from near and far to take advantage of our scientific services, including identification, characterization, DNA extraction, and various imaging techniques. For example, two of our collections (the bacteria collection in Gent, and the medical yeast and fungi collection in Brussels) provide MALDI-TOF MS identification, and in both cases, the databases they have are a lot better than any commercial databases available, which is why people come to them for help.”

Confidential collections: also for hybridomas, cell lines and other genetic material

In addition to BCCM’s public collections, the consortium also maintains three different types of confidential collections under quality-controlled conditions: storage, safe deposit, and patent deposit.

“The range of biological materials that is accepted in BCCM’s confidential collections is wider than for the public collections,” states De Schamphelaire. “In addition to the microorganisms and recombinant plasmids in the public collections, we also offer our confidential deposit services to clients wanting to store hybridomas, other cell lines, and other genetic material.”

The storage service (officially ‘Storage of Third Party’s biological Materials’) provides simple backup storage solutions to companies and scientists who feel that their biological resources are too valuable to be kept only in their own freezers.

Safe deposit is an enhanced confidential service for customers who require storage with annual viability tests. Subsamples of the materials can be distributed by BCCM but only on written authorization by the depositor. Clients often include life sciences companies who want to ensure that their microbes or cell lines are kept safe, or who are required by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to make a safe deposit  of microbial (plasmid-carrying) strains used in food production.

“We also offer our confidential deposit services to clients wanting to store hybridomas, other cell lines, and other genetic material.” – Wouter De Schamphelaire

Patent deposits are legally required by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) when filing a patent that involves biological material. These deposits have to be made with an International Depositary Authority (IDA) – like BCCM, the only IDA in Belgium – with the materials preserved for a minimum period of 30 years. To obtain samples of the patented material, written approval by the depositor or by a patent office is required.

“For patent deposits, we perform a full quality control when we first receive the samples,” De Schamphelaire explains. “From then on, only the viability of the materials is checked every five years. BCCM has been providing this service for a long time; we’ve just had the first few instances where the 30-year storage period has expired.”

Keeping precious samples safe and sound

BCCM is unique in terms of the breadth and depth of its collections, but also in the services on offer.

“It is no wonder the consortium attracts users from around the world,” De Schamphelaire says. “I think one of the main advantages of BCCM is that we offer pretty much everything under one big umbrella. If a client needs to deposit both plasmids, cell lines, and bacteria, they can come to BCCM instead of having to go through three separate procedures with different culture collections. In addition to that, all of the BCCM entities are linked to a university or scientific institute and specific research labs, where our own expertise can be complemented by additional people and services from the host labs.”

“No biological material ever gets lost while in our safekeeping!” – Wouter De Schamphelaire

Furthermore, most of BCCM’s services are included in the scope of the ISO9001 quality certificate, which makes BCCM attractive for customers that require the highest quality standards.

“We check viability and purity of each deposit, and depending on the type of material, we also do further testing ­– for example, we also test cell lines for contamination either with bacteria or with mycoplasma, and recombinant plasmids are verified by full sequencing. What’s more: for both the public and confidential collections, we always have several backups of every sample. In the event of a fire or flood, we also have separate samples in a second location, so no biological material ever gets lost while in our safekeeping!”

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