The ARS Culture Collection (NRRL) - Our History
- The origin of the collection can be traced to 1904 when Dr. Charles Thom joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Thom was assigned to investigate the microbiology of Roquefort and Camembert cheeses while working at the Connecticut Experiment Station and during the course of this research, he acquired several hundred mold cultures. When Dr. Thom relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1913, these strains went with him and, over the years, additional cultures were accessioned from both the U.S. and abroad. This collection, later known as the Thom and Church Collection in recognition of the contributions of Dr. Margaret B. Church, Dr. Thom's associate, was to serve as a source of strains not only for the ARS Culture Collection but also for the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC).
- When the Northern Regional Research Laboratory (now the National Center For Agricultural Utilization Research) opened in 1940, the collection was formally established. Dr. Kenneth B. Raper (above, on the left) who had worked with Dr. Thom (above, on the right) was chosen to head the Culture Collection Section, a part of the Fermentation Division, and brought about two thousand of the Thom and Church cultures with him to Peoria. Other strains deposited in the NRRL collection during the same time were citric acid-producing aspergilli and a collection of bacterial strains. Many of these cultures had also originated from USDA research in the Washington area. Dr. L. J. Wickerham (pictured below), who also joined NRRL in 1940, brought a large collection of yeasts.
- Since the 1940's, the accessioning of strains has been
guided by overall ARS/USDA needs and the specific research
aims of the curators and other staff members. Cultures
have been obtained from individual scientists within
and outside USDA, from other culture collections, from
NCAUR microbial surveys of commodities and from natural
habitats. Approximately a third of the yeast collection
was isolated by Dr Wickerham from samples.
- In 1949, the United States Patent and Trademark Office implemented its new requirement that cultures be deposited in conjunction with patent a pplications concerning microbiological inventions. The reasoning was that for chemical, electrical, or mechanical patents, a diagram or formula can sufficiently describe the invention, whereas in a microbiological patent, illustrations and narrative descriptions are generally inadequate to define sufficiently the microorganism used and therefore comply with the requirement for a full and complete disclosure of the invention. The ARS Culture Collection, accepted an invitation by the Patent Office to serve as depository for patent strains and became the first culture collection in the U.S., and apparently in the world, to accession a patent strain. That organism was Streptomyces aureofaciens NRRL 2209, the strain deposited by the American Cyanamid Company for aureomycin production.