skip to main content

NCTC: A year in review

A note from the curator

Last year was a hugely significant and memorable year for the National Collection of Type Cultures. On 1st January the collection entered its centenary year, a year which has proven to be more eventful and challenging than was originally expected.  In March we were very pleased to welcome over 100 scientists including NCTC alumni, current collaborators and NCTC stakeholders to Colindale to celebrate the collections 100th year of operation. The day comprised of a series of scientific lectures, covering a wide range of microbiological topics and it represented a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon the purpose of NCTC and its long-term contribution to the microbial sciences.

Regular readers of the NCTC newsletter will know that the collection was initially founded at the lister institute in 1920, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and was established to provide a “reputable source of authenticated bacterial strains from a trustworthy source”. Since its establishment NCTC has consistently grown in both breadth and depth. The collection currently houses, not just bacterial strains but also other associated biological resources such as bacteriophages, plasmids and other nucleic acid products. In 1920 the collection was initially comprised of only 200 strains which were from two different bacterial families (Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridiaceae). Over the last 100 years the collection has grown and now comprises of over 6000 different bacterial strains made up of over 900 different species from 82 different bacterial families. From a taxonomic perspective NCTC is now very diverse, but what all strains within the catalogue have in common, are that they are of clinical significance. Many of the strains within the catalogue are either human and animal pathogens from the Advisory Committee for Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) hazard groups 2 and 3.

NCTC is a dynamic collection and we support and encourage microbiologists working on strains of clinical significance to regularly deposit with us to prevent biological material being lost and to support accessibility and reproducibility in science. In spite of the global pandemic NCTC was able to continue to accept new accessions throughout 2020 and this year we are delighted to have accessioned over 175 new strains into the collection from all over world. These included 79 newly described Type strains, with each one presenting a newly described bacterial species. This illustrates the key role that NCTC plays in supporting scientists particularly those are working within the fields of bacterial taxonomy whereby having to define and accession a bacterial type strain into a bacterial repository prior to publishing is a necessity. Other strains welcomed into the catalogue this year include novel bacteriophage, important control strains and recently circulating clinical strains. We were also delighted to ensure all scientists who deposited strains with NCTC in 2020 were able to receive an unique NCTC gift set which contained branded NCTC centenary products.

NCTC is a unique resource, operated by Public Health England and its remit over the last 100 years has remained largely unchanged: to provide a trustworthy source of authentic bacterial strains for use in scientific studies. During the last year the NCTC team have worked exceptionally hard to play their part in supporting the organisations national role in managing the COVID-19 clinical services but this has been achieved alongside ensuring that the NCTC collection was not only sustained but was also able to grow. Currently the collection is thriving, but it is essential in order to ensure its long-term survival that it remains scientifically current. For this reason we always welcome enquiries to deposit strains with us to ensure that the collection remains fit for purpose for its next 100 years of operation.


Dr. Sarah Alexander, NCTC Curator

February 2021