Bringing Together The World’s Best Biobankers: ISBER 2024

The Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa (BBSA) provides a coordinating structure across several of South Africa’s biodiversity biobanks. But some problems are too big for one organization – or even one country – to tackle alone. That’s why BBSA member Kim Labuschagne attended the 2024 International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) Conference, bringing together biobankers from six continents to learn, connect, discuss, and collaborate.

ISBER 2024 Conference Hall

The 2024 ISBER conference reflected on and celebrated the impact of the biobanking community, its innovation and resilience in overcoming barriers, and its shared dreams for the future.

The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) is a global biobanking organization that creates opportunities for networking, education, and innovation, and provides a community for harmonizing approaches to emerging challenges in repositories, as well as fostering ideas to create new solutions. As a member of ISBER, the Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa can help researchers around the world access South Africa’s vast biodiversity resources – and help find answers to some of our most critical questions, from food security to conservation (and more).

As BBSA Director Professor Michelle Hamer has remarked: “In many ways, biobanks should be seen as national assets – as assets that belong to our country, for the good of all of us. But we also need to recognise that we are also part of a global community. By participating in international programmes, we draw attention to our resources and biodiversity. And by sharing our information, we broaden the pool of people who can help us answer critical questions.”

The ISBER annual meeting has been the premier event in biobanking education for over 20 years and is one of the only truly global events in biobanking (along with the Global Genome Biodiversity Network Conference – more on that here). The 2024 ISBER conference, titled “Dreaming Beyond Barriers: The Future of Biobanking”, reflected on and celebrated the impact of the biobanking community, its innovation and resilience in overcoming barriers, and its shared dreams for the future.

SANBI Wildlife Biobank Curator Kim Labuschagne

SANBI Wildlife Biobank Curator Kim Labushagne attended ISBER 2024 to learn about some of the latest biobanking developments, spread the word about the BBSA’s mission, and share in the fun.

Based in Pretoria, SANBI Wildlife Biobank is an international institution, with samples from over 40 countries, and projects running across borders and over oceans. So biobank curator Kim Labuschagne is no stranger to international collaboration.

Kim went to Australia to learn about some of the latest biobanking developments, spread the word about the BBSA’s mission, and share in the fun. Here’s how it went…


How did your presentation go?
The feedback that I got after my presentation was so positive. Some of the audience have been attending the ISBER conference for years, so it was great hearing feedback about all the improvements and how we have grown. They were also excited about the BBSA and that there is such a well-established network in South Africa already.

What was your favourite Conference session?
Obviously, my favourite session was the biodiversity session – the very first one of the conference. In the past, there has not always been that much about the biodiversity collections worldwide, but this year, the organizers approached it a little differently. I think it was a bit of an eye opener to a lot of the medical repositories: that just like them, we also deal with ethical and legal, and even sometimes social issues.

Besides the Conference itself, what was the trip like? First time in Australia?
Long – but good. The conference centre was very close to the Yarra river, so you could use that as your reference point all the time, which made navigating easy. And Melbourne was great to explore a little. They have a free tram system that runs through the city that you are able to hop on and hop off again. So when time permitted, I got to explore a little. It was beautiful – especially the La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library, which has a breathtaking view from the top floor. And yes, first time in Australia!

La Trobe Library

La Trobe University Library – a dream come true for a collector.

What’s one experience from the trip that will stay with you?
I was asked to represent the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) in the Global Partnerships Session: Global Collective Solutions to Challenges in Biobanking. Someone made the comment that a collection is only any good if it is utilized, because you can almost pin your success on the volume of requests you receive. But one of the audience members responded that you can’t base your success on that alone, as some collections are there for different reasons – like conservation of species, supporting research, and so on. You have to consider what your collections objectives are, and the fit for purpose. So having the discussion as a panel made people think, but also be informed of the similarities and the differences of these collections.

After the conference, how do you think the BBSA fits into the big international biodiversity banking picture?
Some of the BBSA collections are already up there with the well-established collections. One thing I realized is that the collection doesn’t have to be rich in equipment. A well-managed collection is just that – well-managed. That means that the procedures and policies are in place for the running of the collection, that there is a dedicated workflow for incoming and outgoing samples, that your staff complement are hands-on and well-trained in the operations of your collection. And also, that you know what you are collecting for – that you have a plan. Our biobanks may not be as well-resourced as some others, but they’re definitely well-managed.

Any other comments about your ISBER 2024 experience?
Shoutout to Seshnee Reddy from SAIAB – she presented as well, and it was her first international conference. And she was fabulous! It was probably the biggest screen you have ever seen in a conference hall, so it was quite intimidating seeing it for the first time. And having to present there for her must have been daunting, but she was great, and she got good feedback as well. It’s a good sign for the next generation of biobankers in South Africa.

Want to know more about the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories? Visit
their website  – or follow @ISBER_ORG on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. And did you know the BBSA is also a member of the Global Genome Biodiversity Network? Find out all about it here.

What are biodiversity biobanks?

Biodiversity biobanks are repositories of biologically relevant resources, including reproductive tissues such as seeds, eggs and sperm, other tissues including blood, DNA extracts, microbial cultures (active and dormant), and environmental samples containing biological communities….