The members and founders of CETAF, the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities, the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle and the main European natural history museums and botanic gardens joined forces in the 1990s with the aim of promoting and enhancing the natural history collections of Europe to serve international scientific research.
30 years of programmes
Since 1992, this network of leading scientific institutions across Europe has been involved in projects funded and supported by the European Commission (PARSYST: 1992, COLPASYST: 1996, SYNTHESYS 1-2-3: 2004-2017, SYNTHESYS+: 2019-2023).
SYNTHESYS (Synthesis of Systematic Resources) was formally inaugurated in 2004. It is a European research infrastructure in the field of systematics (science of classifying the living world) uniting an unprecedented number of natural history collections.
These collections include basic data on the formation of the Earth and its ecosystems over 4.65 billion years, and constitute a basic record to study the impact of humanity on the world over the last thousands of years. As the natural world is facing growing threats, such as global warming, pollution of air, water and soils, species extinction and biodiversity loss, SYNTHESYS aims to produce an organised and accessible European resource to serve the global scientific research community and thereby make a unique contribution to understanding and solving these problems.
This network of scientific institutions is united under three working themes:
- Accessibility of the collections to researchers (Access): “Facilitate access to natural history collections and associated technological tools for the international scientific community”.
From 2004 to 2019, SYNTHESYS supported and funded 52,000 research days in the European collections for nearly 4,000 researchers, resulting in the production of more than 5,000 scientific publications including books, monographs, peer-reviewed articles and theses.
- Streamlining practices by working in a network (Network Activities): “Share and build knowledge to conserve, exploit and enhance collections”.
This networking aims to harmonise and share best practices and policies in the conservation of collections and digital and molecular data.
- Technical development through joint research projects (Joint Research Activities): “From physical collections to digital collections”.
Joint research activities aim to improve the quality and speed of access to collections, their associated digital data and data analysis programmes for natural history by developing computing tools and services.
30 years of expertise
SYNTHESYS+ (2019-2023), the fourth iteration of this programme, is funded with 10 million euros from the European Commission. It brings together 32 partners from across 12 countries (museums, botanic gardens, universities, international scientific organisations and private partners) and represents the next stage in the evolution of this community.
In continuation of its work of enhancing and improving access to natural history collections, SYNTHESYS+ is involved in creating the European research infrastructure DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections), building on the other preparatory European programmes (ICEDIG, Cost Mobilise, DISSCo Prepare).
This wide-reaching scientific infrastructure project will unite 115 European institutions from 21 countries. All these entities position their collections at the centre of scientific excellence and innovation in the fields of environmental research, climate change, food security, health and the bioeconomy.
SYNTHESYS+ has in particular the task of developing DiSSCo RI tools and services, following the example of the Collection Digitisation Dashboard concept which provides access to all of the digitised European collections. It is also seeking to develop the ELViS (European Loans and Visits System) portal which will constitute a unique entry point for the international scientific community to request research visits, loans and digitisation of collection objects.
Equally, with the aim of developing digitised data and making them interoperable, SYNTHESYS+ is working to introduce a call for collection digitisation projects upon request (Virtual Access), and is developing software resources using Artificial Intelligence to extract, improve and annotate the objects in the digitised collections.
- Jonathan Blettery, Technical coordinator (jonathan.blettery [@] mnhn.fr)
- Magalie Castelin, Scientific coordinator (magalie.castelin [@] mnhn.fr)
- Guillaume Billet, Scientific co-coordinator (guillaume.billet [@] mnhn.fr)
- Vanessa Demanoff, Administrative and financial coordinator (vanessa.demanoff [@] mnhn.fr)
- Pierre-Yves Gagnier, NA, JRA and VA supervisor (pierre-yves.gagnier [@] mnhn.fr)
- Philippe Loret, JRA supervisor (philippe.loret [@] mnhn.fr)