Development and Organisation
The idea of creating an archive for environmental specimens was first proposed by German and American scientists in the early 1970s. Experts in various scientific disciplines got together for informal discussions, leading to the first international conferences held in 1977 and 1978 to define a concept for environmental specimen banking and to agree on the choice of bioindicators.
At the same time, from 1976 onwards, preliminary studies were carried out in Germany and the USA, albeit merely analytical at this stage, backed by an agreement between the two nations.
From build-up to permanent task
The feasibility of setting up an environmental specimen bank was finally demonstrated by a pilot project launched in 1979 with the financial support of the former German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (BMFT) and the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). This was followed by the creation of the human specimen archive at the University of Münster in late 1980, which originally consisted of a single walk-in cooling chamber (with a volume of 34 m3), held at an average temperature of -85 °C by means of electric refrigeration units. Trial operations of the environmental specimen bank started in May 1981 at the Research Centre Jülich, where specimens were stored at -150 °C in 18 cryogenic containers (with a total volume of 20 m3) cooled by liquid nitrogen.
The pilot project was so successful that the BMI decided to set up a national environmental specimen bank as a permanent national institution, to be co-ordinated by the German Environment Agency (UBA), with effect from January 1985. In 1986, overall responsibility was transferred to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.
The German Environment Agency (UBA) is responsible for the administration and co-ordination, the central data maintenance and the assessment. Currently six external institutions support the UBA in different tasks.