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Michael Ashburner archive: the second release

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By | From the Collections

Michael Ashburner is a world authority on the genetics and genome sequence of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The second batch of records from the Ashburner archive is now available to view at the Wellcome Library (reference PP/MIA). This batch includes Section C: Ashburner’s work at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI); Section D: his subject files; and Section E: his prolific publishing output.

Drosophila melanogaster

Drosophila melanogaster – wild type. Image credit: Audio Visual, LSHTM. Wellcome Images reference: B0003353.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Ashburner’s large archive provides a comprehensive record of a career in this field. During the 1990s, Ashburner also developed an interest in bioinformatics, which led to his involvement with the EMBL-EBI.

EMBL-EBI is a centre for research and services in bioinformatics with a longstanding association with Ashburner. He was a key advocate when plans for the Institute were first proposed and he sat on the Advisory Board in 1993. Ashburner was also instrumental in submitting the successful British bid to host the Institute in Cambridgeshire.

East Wing of the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge.

East Wing of the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge. Wellcome Images reference: C0039533.

He became the EMBL-EBI’s Research Programme Co-ordinator in 1994 and was Joint Head of the EMLB-EBI from 1998 to 2001. Section C of the archive contains several files relating to collaborations between the EMBL-EBI and other institutions, particularly the Gene Ontology Consortium and UniProt database. There are also some internal administrative files that record the development of the EMBL-EBI in the late 1990s.

Ashburner’s subject files showcase his many and varied interests beyond D. Melanogaster. It is probably no surprise to learn there is an extensive collection of published papers about the history of genetics and various whole-genome sequencing projects. More unexpected are the set of papers regarding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and the outbreak that hit the UK in the 1990s. These include research papers, press cuttings and a run of progress reports produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and later the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

DNA double helix and sequencing output

DNA double helix and sequencing output
Image credit: Peter Artymiuk. Wellcome Images reference: B0004874.

Ashburner published extensively throughout his career and the vast majority of his papers are represented in the archive. There are series in the catalogue dedicated to his seminal work Drosophila: a laboratory handbook and his involvement in editing all three volumes of The Genetics and Biology of Drosophila between 1976 and 1986.

There are also numerous files concerning his other papers, which contain draft manuscripts, correspondence with co-authors, draft figures, and correspondence with publishers. The archives provide a fascinating insight into the world of academic publication and chart the developments that have occurred since the late 1960s.

This release means that the majority of Ashburner’s archive is now open to researchers. However, there are two more sections still to come: Section F: University of Cambridge papers and teaching work and Section H: Correspondence. These will be released in early 2016.

Victoria Sloyan

Victoria Sloyan is an archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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