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Culture Collection History

History of the Plymouth Collection

The first algal cultures at Plymouth were established by E.J. Allen and E.W. Nelson in 1910, but the main development of the Plymouth Culture Collection took place under Dr Mary Parke from the 1940s onwards. Mary Parke had already established a number of flagellates in culture as part of her work on the feeding of oyster larvae at the Port Erin Marine Biological Station.

This work was developed following her move to Plymouth in 1940 and resulted in the publication of a number of seminal papers on flagellate systematics, many in collaboration with Professor Irene Manton of the University of Leeds who brought her skills in electron microscopy to the partnership.

The papers of Parke and Manton gave details of new structures and organelles to be found in many of the organisms from the Culture Collection, together with information on their functions within the cell. This led to a revolution in algal systematics and laid the foundations for new ideas on cell structure and function in general and also emphasized the need for readily available material in culture for comparative studies of all kinds.

Following Dr Parke’s retirement in 1973, much further work on algal fine structure and systematics has taken place both in Plymouth and elsewhere using cultured material from the Plymouth Collection. For example, the flagellate genus Pavlova has received particular attention and the results of these studies have led to major changes in taxonomic concepts within the algal division Haptophyta. Within the same group, there have been investigations on the fine-structural changes during mitosis and cell division as part of a collaborative study between Plymouth and the University of Tsukuba, Japan. Again, a major research initiative in the last ten years involving the Culture Collection has been concerned with the biology of the important coccolithophorid Emiliania huxleyi. This required the establishment in Plymouth of several hundred clones of E. huxleyi in order to carry out detailed DNA analyses for the study of the population genetics using clones from different parts of the world, especially northern waters (collaborative work with the University of Bristol and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven ). These clones have also been used for morphometric studies of coccoliths under various environmental and growth conditions (collaborative studies with the Universities of Bergen and Oslo).

Although initially the Plymouth Collection was established for the provision of food organisms and for taxonomic research, it is clear from the above that its present scientific use extends well beyond these confines. Thus, other continuing Plymouth projects involving the Culture Collection are concerned with mechanisms of carbon acquisition in a range of species and studies of calcification in coccolithophorids, and it has been used as a source of reference material for developing automated identification techniques based on flow cytometry. The latter programme is a collaborative project involving the MBA, PML, University of Malaga (Spain), University College Dublin, the Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven and AquaSense (The Netherlands). Cultures are also employed in studies of the photosynthetic physiology of phytoplankton, including the molecular basis of photoacclimation.

The Collection therefore continues to play a vital part in world phycology as a provider of high quality research material underpinning a diversity of projects both within the Plymouth Laboratories (Marine Biological Association and Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and world-wide for research and teaching, as well as for the purpose for which they were originally isolated, feeding marine organisms. In addition, Plymouth clones have been distributed to all the major international algal culture collections; indeed the Plymouth Collection, together with the Butcher and Pringsheim Collections formed the basis of the marine section of the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa when it was originally established in Cambridge (now transferred to DML, Oban ).

In addition to Mary Parke’s scientific legacy, a Fund was established by her relatives after her death with the aim of giving partial assistance to young scientists working on algae who wish to spend some time in the Plymouth Laboratory as part of their research project. Please see the research awards and grants page for details.