Herbaria, Preservation & Science

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Charles Davis, director of the Harvard University Herbaria, looks at specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau. Davis was a co-editor of a special issue of Philosophical Transactions B, which advocates for the continued preservation of biological collections. Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

Collecting plant specimens and pressing them for further inspection is a pastime many of us have tried at least once in our lives. It was fun while it lasted. And some beautiful mementos may have survived to tell the tale. The opportunity to look at and learn from plant specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau? Priceless. Thanks to Peter Reuell, a writer and publicist at Harvard University, for this:

Critical collections

Importance of biological samples and their preservation goes beyond the obvious

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The Harvard University Herbaria holds a specimen of trillium collected by Henry David Thoreau. Jon Chase/Havard file photo

More than a century ago, when botanists and naturalists were in the field collecting plant and animal specimens, they couldn’t have imagined that scientists would one day be able to extract DNA from samples to understand how plants and animals are related to one another.

They couldn’t have imagined that their collections could one day shed light on the effects of global climate change, or the emergence and spread of pathogens, the spread of fungal-driven amphibian extinction, or the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing pollution in the U.S. Continue reading