Good news for science and for the Earth: scientists looking for rare research specimens, such as the smoothtooth blacktip shark or Antarctic skate, now have a website to request or trade biological odds and ends. Built by students and backed by startup accelerators, Otlet.io allows researchers to list their surplus research samples and request those currently not available through other means. The site has already been acknowledged as a major win for conservation.
The website is a product born of frustration: founders Lauren Meyer and Madi Green, two PhD students in Australia and Tasmania, were having trouble finding specimens to complete projects. After completing an undergraduate honors thesis with limited data, Meyer discovered that a colleague held several tiger shark livers – which she needed to present a conclusive report. To improve communications and cooperation between researchers, Meyer and Green started SharkShare.com, which ultimately evolved to Otlet.
Universities hail the project as a crucial step forward for conservation. Some species listed on Otlet today are either Red List-threatened or considered data deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – and, by sharing existing resources, scientists can continue their current research without further threatening any species.
To begin the specimen swapping process, scientists simply create an account on Otlet and share what they have or what they need. When a match occurs, individuals can reach out to one another to coordinate exchanges and determine shipping responsibility. The community is only open to active researchers: before requesting or listing anything, users must provide their academic status, organization affiliation and details on their specific field of study.
Even though the website is relatively new, it’s already created major waves across the international science community: there are more than 10,000 listings on Otlet representing 135 distinct species from 47 nations. Recently added to the specimen database are flapnose ray fins from the Red Sea, livers from South Australian thresher sharks and Pacific spookfish muscles from the subantarctic Pacific Ocean. All are available for exchange with other scientists.
Otlet receives support from Australia’s St. George Bank and the New South Wales Government, startup incubator BlueChilli and the Save Our Seas foundation.
Images via Wikimedia Commons