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Funding cut threatens biology museum's specimen collection

A museum at the University of New Mexico contains the world's largest archive of frozen tissue samples, but the future of the half-million biological specimens stored there is at risk.

Last month, the National Science Foundation indefinitely suspended a program that funds the maintenance of biological research collections like the one at UNM's Museum of Southwestern Biology, The Albuquerque Journal reported. The federal agency cited budget concerns.

The museum houses about 285,000 mammal specimens, 95,000 amphibian and reptile specimens, samples representing 2,300 species of arthropods, 4 million fish, 130,000 plants and 30,000 parasites. It also contains more than 500,000 tissue samples.

Scientists argued such collections enable a wide range of research, from the impact of climate change to how species evolve, and said some specimens would be impossible to replace if lost.

The National Science Foundation's Collections in Support of Biological Research grants program doled out between $3 million and $5 million each year to organizations that maintain natural history collections. The agency announced in March it was suspending the program, saying it needed to keep a flat budget and review the grant program.

The Museum of Southwestern Biology has received nearly $2 million in Collections in Support of Biological Research grants since the mid-1990's.

"I can't quite grasp what the driving force really is," Dr. Jon Dunnam, the museum's senior collections manager for mammals, said of the suspension. "This is the kind of biological infrastructure that is absolutely going to be necessary going forward."

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