Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Letter from the Public Health Laboratory Service

  Thank you for inviting the Public Health Laboratory Service to comment on the Government's response on "biodiversity". It would not be particularly appropriate for the PHLS to comment on the basic content of either the report or the feedback as the report is restricted to macrobiology, ie higher organisms, and our concern is with the agents that cause infectious diseases. In principle, of course, we are very supportive of the need to preserve and encourage biodiversity and to ensure effective conservation measures. We were also pleased to see the Committee's recommendation for support of research in academic institutions aimed at supporting biodiversity.

  Nevertheless, we welcome the opportunity to add to the debate on biodiversity by pointing out that many of the same arguments apply to microbiological diversity. Micro-organisms (bacteria and viruses in particular) are not only important as the causes of a wide range of infections in man and animals, and therefore pose various threats to health, but the great bulk of the microbial world has no relationship with disease and is essential for driving all the food cycles on which the diversity of macro-organisms depends. The capacity of micro-organisms to break down complex biological molecules and recycle them in to the food chain is essential to the continued existence of life on this planet. The fact that these are minute organisms that can multiply rapidly and adapt to a wide range of ecological niches, means that the microbial world holds great capacity for genetic change, re-assortment and adaptation. For these reasons, it is equally important that we recognise the need for conservation and study of biodiversity in the microbial population. To this end, the maintenance of culture collections of well defined species of micro-organisms and support for taxonomic work on the microbial population should be seen as vital to our efforts for biological conservation.

7 March 2003

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