Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa

Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa

The Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa is a network of institutions that preserve, maintain and utilise South Africa’s vast biodiversity biobanking resources – and provide critical research infrastructure for answering important questions about the world we live in.

Still have questions? We’ve got answers…

Frequently Asked Questions About the BBSA

As a research infrastructure project funded by the Department of Science & Innovation (DSI)  and co-ordinated and hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa (BBSA) is a network of participating institutions that hold biodiversity biobanks, rather than a single facility. Under the leadership of BBSA director Professor Michelle Hamer, the BBSA thus provides a coordinating structure across several of South Africa’s existing biodiversity biobanks, with the main aim of increasing the range and quality of samples stored and/or distributed, and increasing and improving access for research and development through a single, centralised data portal, which will also allow more strategic collection of samples.

Find out more: https://bbsa.org.za/2023/03/10/bbsa-launch-celebrating-knowledge-that-makes-a-difference/

The Biodiversity Biobanks of South Africa is made up of biodiversity biobank researchers who can be found all over South Africa – on university campuses, in dedicated research facilities and even at national parks, handling samples from bacteria, plants, fungi and rhinos (and more). Meet some of them here. BBSA biobanks store, study and share hundreds of thousands of samples of biological material from plants, animals, bacteria and fungi, from field to farm to ocean – and beyond. Core biobanks support the concept of open access, that agree to implement the standards and procedures developed, that contribute to achieving the objectives of the BBSA, and that will be eligible for resource allocations through the BBSA. Affiliated biobanks participate in some BBSA activities and initiatives, but that operate according to their own access policies and implement their own standards, and are not eligible for resourcing from the BBSA.

Learn more here: https://bbsa.org.za/participation-in-the-bbsa/

Biobanks collect and store a variety of living samples, including tissue, cells, blood, saliva, plasma or DNA, for use in a variety of research efforts. Human samples, for example, are essential in biomedical research to understand disease mechanisms and develop new therapies. Biodiversity biobanks on the other hand, are those that hold a wide range of materials from or representing plants, animals and microbes (fungi, bacteria and viruses). These biobanks hold similar materials to medical biobanks, but these represent a large number of different species and also include other samples such as hair, horn, seeds, and cultures of plant tissues and of microbes.

Want to know more? Read this: https://bbsa.org.za/2022/11/17/five-things-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-biobanks-but-were-too-afraid-to-ask/ 

Biobanks provide the vital infrastructure for research to support scientific advancement and innovation. The value of biodiversity biobanks for society is broad, and the biobanks could be seen by society as vaults of genetic materials for our biodiversity that can be used to address many of the challenges that will increasingly face humans, including food security, health and well-being, and unemployment. In humans and animals, these samples are essential in biomedical research to understand disease mechanisms and develop new therapies. For plants, seed biobanks can help us understand, study and even resurrect plant species. The unique biodiversity of South Africa means that the biobank samples offer opportunities for the development of natural products, including those with pharmaceutical potential.

Learn more: https://bbsa.org.za/2023/07/18/shared-wealth-environmental-health-how-biobanking-benefits-south-africa/ 

Absolutely. South Africa may be known for its big game and other wildlife which attracts millions of tourists every year – but that’s just the tip of the biodiversity iceberg. South Africa is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, with not only exceptional species richness, but also exceptional levels of uniqueness (endemism), and biome and ecosystem diversity. Three of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots are located in South Africa. The country has over 2000 plant species that are used for medicinal purposes, about a third of which (656 species) are traded commercially. And the country’s seas straddle three oceans (the Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans), with more than 630 marine species, mostly fish, harvested by commercial, subsistence and recreational fisheries from South Africa’s 3,100km long coastline. And South Africa has an estimated half a million items in various biobanks!

Find out more: https://bbsa.org.za/2023/06/23/south-africa-is-famous-for-its-biodiversity-heres-how-the-bbsa-helps-manage-that/ 

Biodiversity biobanks have a huge role to play in studying our world. In South Africa, the problem is that the biobanks holding these samples have traditionally operated largely in isolation. There is not an established culture of using biobanks among biodiversity researchers.Some researchers don’t trust the system and fear that if they deposit samples in a biobank they will not be able to access these if they need them later, or they are concerned about the quality of samples that may be supplied by biobanks. There are currently no common policies, procedures and standards related to biodiversity biobanks in South Africa, which means that the quality of materials cannot always be assured. Further, South Africa also has no established training programme for biobank technicians or curators or managers. The only way to address these challenges is through working as a cohesive network with a common purpose and shared objectives. The Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa is that network. 

Well, the BBSA, as the name implies, is all about uniting South Africa’s biobanking community. But some problems are too big for one country to tackle alone. So as a member of the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN), 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). And the BBSA also recently joined the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER), which provides members with opportunities for online training and access to an online biobank assessment tool, as well as other opportunities for learning and networking. And by thinking local and acting global, the BBSA helps promote sustainability the world over.

Find out more: https://bbsa.org.za/2023/06/05/biobanking-to-save-the-world-the-bbsa-the-sustainable-development-goals/ 

Finally! We thought you’d never ask. The Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa project is a network that reaches across institutions, uniting them in the quest for biobanking excellence. Stakeholders include SANBI (as the host institution), the DSI (in multiple roles), and the managers and staff of the broader institutions or departments under which the biobanks fall. But stakeholders also include permitting authorities, potential funders, contributors to the biobanks, users of samples and data – and anyone who has an interest in agriculture, economic development, conservation, health, science education, ethics and more. Biodiversity matters – and we all have a stake in it. So if you’re a biobank researcher or curator, feel free to join the network. Or let us know if you’d like to access some of the samples or data contained in the BBSA network’s records. Or if you’d like to sit in on a BBSA webinar, or host one, for that matter.

Just reach out: https://bbsa.org.za/contact-us/ 

That’s great news! Whatever it is, we’d love to hear from you. So why not visit our Contact Page, and leave us a note, or subscribe to our newsletter, and get the latest BBSA news fresh off the press? Or read about it as it happens by following us on: 

And don’t forget, you can always email us on info@bbsa.org.za or n.kruger@sanbi.org.za. Don’t be shy – we want to hear from you!