The American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) was founded in 1925 as a repository for donated strains of bacteria. The first catalog in 1927 listed bacteria with names like “Streptococcus from cheese” and strains from Louis Pasteur’s laboratory. ATCC still houses its originally deposited strains, as well as viruses, fungi, yeast, protozoa, tumor cell lines, and related recombinant DNA biomaterials.
The molecular biology clone collection grew out of genome sequencing projects in the 1970s and 1980s, and now is the largest subcollection at ATCC with 8 million cloned genes from various species including humans, rodents, monkeys, plants, and zebrafish. Most people still think of ATCC as a biorepository that accepts donations of living organisms. However, “we are more than that—we’re a biological resource center, too,” says Ray Cypess, Ph.D., DVM, CEO and chairman of ATCC.
Rather than just serving as curators of microbial libraries and cell lines, ATCC researchers provide information about cells, turning them into value-added assets. Staff scientists conduct a variety of research projects, such as descriptions of new species, genomics, infectious disease diagnostics, and improved storage and characterization methods.
ATCC’s collections of microorganisms and cell lines serve as reference materials for life science applications, such as food quality testing, water and environmental monitoring, and therapeutic and diagnostic products.
“In addition to merely warehousing and distributing these microbial assets, we also link them to information and develop them into more valuable tools for the research community,” says Dr. Cypess.
For example, ATCC recently collaborated with Promega and Life Technologies to access bioluminescence and fluorescent technologies. “Our intent is to embed these technologies into our biological materials to improve the detection of in vivo and in vitro systems for the academic and drug discovery markets,” says Dr. Cypess.
Scientists at ATCC provide related customer services, such as isolating nucleic acids and cell lysates from organisms for further characterization and refinement. Clients include academic institutions, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and food, beverage, and cosmetics makers. Currently, about 70% of ATCC clients are academic researchers and 30% are biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
The business model at ATCC now reflects the modern reality of the biological research environment. Academic researchers once freely contributed cells to ATCC, but now deposits are covered under an agreement that recognizes the potential commercial success of a microbe or cell line. Royalties from sales by ATCC are shared with the depositing academic institution.