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NZer elected chairman of 'mega-science" group

1 November 2005

New Zealander elected chairman of world “mega-science” group

A New Zealand researcher has been elected to chair an international organisation working to create a free mega-database on all known creatures.

Landcare Research’s Research Manager Dr David Penman will head the Governing Board of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

There are about 1.8 million named species on Earth from mammals to plants to bacteria, but no complete catalogue of them. GBIF aims to establish such a catalogue on the Internet, thereby making the vast storehouse of biodiversity information held in museums and research institutions freely available to all. The information is fundamental for biodiversity, biosecurity, trade agreements and education.

GBIF currently has 27 member nations including the United States, the United Kingdom and most other EU countries, Japan and Australia; plus 40 associate organisations and countries. It holds more than 80 million records of molecular, genetic and species information. Also, it is now linked to Google Earth, which will eventually visually display where species are.

Dr Penman says his chairmanship of GBIF will bring benefits to New Zealanders.

“GBIF opens access for New Zealand science and biodiversity to a much wider audience, and in my new role I personally will be able to increase awareness of New Zealand research to a wide range of ministers, officials and funding bodies.

“GBIF enables us to repatriate information without repatriating specimens. For example, a lot of New Zealand specimens from Cook’s day forward are held in major Northern Hemisphere museums. Through GBIF we can access images, DNA profiles and ecological information on those specimens, without having to travel there.

“This approach is also very useful for Pacific nations and developing countries, particularly those in hot climates, where keeping specimens in cool temperatures can be expensive.”

Dr Penman says the first five years of GBIF focused on establishing proof of concept that databases could talk to each other.

“The old way was to centralise databases on large computers. GBIF links widely distributed databases through smart software, enabling people to share their information while retaining control of it.

“Now that it has achieved this technical feat in a fully operational system, we expect the number of records available on GBIF to reach 500 million to 1 billion within five years.”

The chairmanship role is for up to four years.



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