Biological Resources of Living and Cryopreserved Cells

The Biological Resources of Living and Cryopreserved Cells (RBCell) of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle stores microorganisms or cells for studying the mechanisms of life (e.g. genetic information, cellular and metabolic processes) as Chemical and Extract natural products from nationale chimiotheque. RBCell specimens include: prokaryotic and eukaryotic, unicellular and pluricellular, live, cryopreserved or lyophilized microorganisms, cryopreserved vertebrate cells or tissues, DNA and natural molecules or extracts.


The Muséum’s RBCell group comprises 5 collections: Cyanobacteria and Microalgae, Fungi, Unicellular Eukaryotes, Vertebrate tissues and cryopreserved cells and Chemical and Extract libraries. Each of these collections is under the responsibility of a collection manager supported by a technical and scientific team.

The conservation process developed by the RBCell group is situated within the current context of biological diversity preservation, in which the Muséum plays a central national role. These collections are a remarkable support to the description of this biodiversity and its modifications in a changing environmental context.

The collections of the RBCell ensemble are often small in size in terms of the number of specimens, but represent a strong heritage interest for the conservation of the diversity of living organisms. Indeed, these collections are based on samples taken in the environment and stored in a functional form (e.g. live or cryopreserved cells or microorganisms, cryopreserved tissues, etc.).

These collections support research activities on the understanding of the cellular mechanisms of living organisms, including not only genetic information, but also the entire cellular and metabolic potential of cells or microorganisms. The products of this metabolism, which are metabolites and molecules, represent a reservoir for scientific and industrial development.


The collection of living cells was initiated at the Museum at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1929 with the constitution of a freshwater microalgae collection (conservation of living microalgae) and in 1950 with the creation of the collection of fungal strains (conservation of strains in living or freeze-dried form).

The creation of the RBCell ensemble has made it possible to make these particular collections, often dispersed in the research laboratories of the Museum, the CNRS, the IRD or universities, readable. Through field harvesting missions, isolation of new specimens of high interest for both fundamental and industrial research and donation of collections, the RBCell ensemble has greatly increased its number of specimens since its creation.

Thus, more than 12,000 live or cryopreserved specimens (e.g. strains, cells, tissues), as well as molecules or extracts of natural substances, are currently conserved and referenced in the collections of the ensemble. Most specimens are preserved in several forms: live, cryopreserved, DNA, extracts or molecules, each form defining a conservation batch. In 2019, more than 71,000 conservation batches were referenced.


The RBCell collections constitute a reservoir of living material that interests researchers from various disciplines (taxonomy, ecology, biogeochemistry, ecotoxicology, chemistry, biochemistry...), but also industrials by the functional properties of specimens or by their production of molecules or metabolites of interest in various fields (cosmetics, food, sustainable or alternative energies...).

These collections are also a support for the teaching activities of the Museum (Master, Doctoral School), but also for the diffusion and sharing of knowledge to the public.

A very strong activity is associated with the collections of the RBCell ensemble. This is linked to the number of acts performed by the collection managers and their teams (more than 55,000 in 2019) for the maintenance of the strains by renewal of the culture medium, typing of specimens, updating of databases, conservation acts, isolation of new specimens, tests for the revival of cryopreserved cells, etc. The activity of this unit relies on the Museum's particularly dedicated and motivated staff.

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