Culture Collections

The Princess Royal Visits the National Collection of Type Cultures to mark its Centenary year


On the 9th November the UK Health Security Agency, Colindale was extremely privileged to host a visit from Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal. The visit was to celebrate the centenary of the National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC), and included a overview of the collection as well as laboratory tours. NCTC is one of the oldest collections of bacterial samples in the world, housing over 6000 strains made up of over 900 bacterial species and the collection entered its 100th year of operation in 2020 (however centenary celebrations were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic).  Deputy Director of Reference Services, Dr. Neil Woodford, UKHSA CEO Jenny Harris and the Lord Lieutenant of Barnet, Martin Russell also attended on the day.   

The visit began with an overview of the NCTC centenary poster which is a timeline of medical microbiology over the last 100 years. NCTC was established in 1920 at a time when bacteriology was in its infancy and infectious disease was the leading cause of death. HRH, The Princess Royal showed great interest in hearing about the vast achievements that have been undertaken in the field of microbiology in the last century including the development of vaccines and antimicrobials to increase life expectancy. The centenary poster tour culminated with NCTC’s most notable 21st century development, the NCTC3000 project, a collaboration between the Wellcome Sanger Institute and NCTC, where our scientists worked to decode and understand the DNA of more than 3000 bacteria using long read sequencing technology. 



Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal enjoying the NCTC Centenary Poster.


The tour then moved on to the Colindale library where Jake Turnbull (Data Scientist) was able to present some of the NCTC original artifacts including letters from Alexander Fleming and the NCTC original order book to The Princess Royal. Jake said 

“It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to exhibit items from the 100 year history of the National Collection of Type Cultures to HRH the Princess Royal, and showcase the scientific legacy of the collection once more as part of the NCTC’s centenary celebrations” 

HRH, The Princess Royal officially opened NCTC’s newest laboratory which has been named after Mabel Rhodes, NCTC’s first Deputy Curator. The lab will be used  to extract and analyse DNA from NCTC strains which will be extremely beneficial to the collection. Sunita Gurung the NCTC Operations Manager said:

‘It was a privilege to host Her Royal Highness to commemorate the NCTC centenary celebrations and the inauguration of the new Mabel Rhodes laboratory. It was great to be able to showcase the fantastic work the team do to maintain the collection whist preserving and creating a legacy for all for the scientific community. Seeing HRH’s enthusiasm and interest in the work we do was great, and the team were very honoured to have her visit.’

HRH also had the opportunity to visit a new COVID and the High Containment Microbiology laboratories. Finally, the tour returned to the library where the whole NCTC team were delighted to personally meet with HRH The Princess Royal and explain their important roles in ensuring the collection’s success. This completely unforgettable day for everyone involved was then recorded permanently within the NCTC history books with the signing of the NCTC Visitors Book and the unveiling to the laboratory plaque.


HRH 2 

HRH the Princess Royal unveils the laboratory plaque. 



HRH The Princess Royal meets with the NCTC team. 



HRH The Princess Royal, interacts with NCTC Curator Dr Sarah Alexander


Written by Dr. Sarah Alexander, Interim Head of Culture Collections and NCTC Curator. December 2021


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