Distributed System of Scientific Collections
General Info

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden (The Netherlands)

legal status



remote, physical, virtual

The Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) is a pan-European Research Infrastructure (RI) initiative. DiSSCo aims to bring together natural history collections (NHCs) from over 175 museums, botanical gardens and universities across 23 countries in a distributed infrastructure that, functioning as a single Europe-wide collection, make the millions of objects hosted in European NHCs physically and digitally open and accessible for all forms of research and innovation, sharing common access, curation, policies and practices across countries while ensuring that all the data complies with the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable data both for humans and AI systems). A crucial part of DiSSCo's complex data architecture is the comprehensive portfolio of services that it is currently developing across three main categories: a) e-Science Services, b) Physical and Remote Access Services and c) Support and Training Services. Regarding e-science services, DiSSCo will provide a one-stop-shop for services providing discovery, access, interpretation and analysis of complex linked data. All e-services will be provided as part of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) public offering. Regarding the second category of services, related to physical and remote access services, DiSSCo aims to provide universal, harmonised physical access and digitisation-on-demand services. Physical access is up till today still the main mechanism through which scientists interact with NSCs, but as the digital knowledge base grows, the balance will shift to virtual task such as online remote curation and annotation. DiSSCo will continue supporting physical access, balancing requests for physical access with, for example, digitisation-on-demand or generating new data (e.g. DNA sequences, 3-D or microscopic imaging) that can be associated to the digital specimen objects across the participating DiSSCo facilities. A suite of core e-services (being currently developed under DiSSCo Transition) will support the process of access provision from both the user and the institution (facility) side. Finally, regarding the category of services related to support & training , the focus is on providing a comprehensive user support system for all DiSSCo services and improving digital skills and competencies across the user audiences and supporting career paths for new roles (e.g. digital curators) in the distributed facilities (NSCs). None of the services described above would be possible without the novel technologies and approaches to knowledge management that DiSSCo is currently developing, and which will enable it to achieve its core objective of scaling up knowledge production and broadening the spectrum of users, increasing participation and accessibility of biodiversity and geodiversity knowledge. Among the new technologies and concepts that DiSSCo is developing, the notion of digital specimen is paramount. The Digital Specimen can be seen as a “digital twin” of a real-life specimen, one that, simply put, aims to digitally replicate the experience of an in-person visit to the collection. It is in fact an enriched experience, given that, far from limiting itself to providing the conventional information that is contained in the specimen tag, the digital twin provides a wide array of other different types of data about the physical specimen that it represents, including taxonomic data, genomic data, biochemical data, images, etc. from multiple sources on different locations. All of it on the click of a button. In providing universal physical and virtual access to interlinked data from a vast community of NHCs across Europe, DiSSCo will transform today’s landscape of collection-based research. From a scenario of individual European natural collections providing simple access to various data classes into a new reality: a comprehensive and sustainable Europe-wide knowledge base of unprecedented scale that links all data classes across institutions.
Total Investment 420,3 M€ Design 10,7 M€ Preparation 20,2 M€ Implementation 69,4 M€ Operation 12,1 M€/year Project 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 2026 2028 2030 2032 2034 2036 2038 RM06 RM08 RM10 RM16 RM18 RM21 LA24
Roadmap Entry
as project: 2018
Total investment
420,3 M€
Design Phase
10,7 M€
Preparation Phase
20,2 M€
Implementation Phase
69,4 M€
Operation start
12,1 M€/year
DiSSCo -the largest ever formal agreement between natural history museums, botanic gardens and university collections in the world- entered the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap in 2018. This achievement signalled the recognition of DiSSCo as a priority infrastructure for the European Research Area and it was the result of the long-standing collaboration between members of the network of European museums (the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities - CETAF). Ultimately, the ambition for DiSSCo is to obtain the status of a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), a legal form that facilitates the establishment and operation of the RI. Developing an ERIC, in the context of the ESFRI, typically goes through a series of distinct yet highly interdependent phases, some of them DiSSCo has already gone through. The most prominent ones are (i) the Preparatory Phase, (ii) the Transition Phase, (iii) the Construction Phase and (iv) the Operational Phase. The Preparatory Phase of DiSSCo was implemented through a complex programme of EU-funded and institutionally funded projects, including SYNTHESIS+, MOBILISE and of course DISCCO PREPARE. Their completion in Q1 of 2023 marked the endof the Preparatory Phase (2018-2023) and signalled the entrance to the Transition Phase. The Transition Phase is defined as the time between the end of the Preparatory Phase and the start of the Construction Phase. The latter can only start once the RI legal entity is in place and member-state funding becomes available. The main goal during this transitional period is to ensure the formation of the ERIC legal entity as a prerequisite for receiving financial contributions from European governments. For DiSSCo, we expect establishing the legal status of ERIC in Q1 of 2025. The Transition Period will also be the time to develop some of the core services of DiSSCo and the main features of its data infrastructure. As a result, by the end of the Transitional period, DiSSCo will be ready to start its final Construction stage.
ELViS: The European Loans and Visits System (ELViS) is a one-stop shop for access to the collections in Europe. It provides a unified way to request visits, loans and virtual access. COLLECTION DIGITISATION DASHBOARD: The CDD is an interactive dashboard that visually summarises the digitisation status, content and strengths of natural history collections across the community of institutions of DiSSCo. It displays progress in digitisation and provides summaries and comparisons among collections regarding the number of objects, taxonomic scope, categories of preservation, level of digitisation and other criteria. DiSSCover: Formerly called UCAS, DiSSCover will provide event-based curation and annotation functions on the Digital Specimen for experts in the community and for computer systems. Transactions on the data will be stored as well as provenance information related to the curation or annotation events. DIGITAL SPECIMEN REPOSITORY: The DSR is a data repository for experimentation with Digital Specimen and other DiSSCo-related FAIR Digital Objects (FDOs). KNOWLEDGE BASE: The Knowledge Base provides a central search and browse interface to find all documentation related to DiSSCo. HELPDESK: The DiSSCo Helpdesk will be a central place for all questions related to DiSSCo services or access programmes such as the virtual access and transnational access calls in ELViS. For additional information about the services, please visit dissco.eu
S S H D I G I T E N E H & F P S E
Within the context of ENVRI: DiSSCo conducted exploratory collaboration in FAIR implementation for linking eLTER and GBIF datasets (https://github.com/b-cubed-eu/hackathon-project-7/tree/main). DiSSCo also collaborated with eLTER, LifeWatch, National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) and the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) in the field of Scientific name-matching usage(https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.10.e121871). Other collaborations. With GBIF: DiSSCo is a GBIF member and as such contributing to technical discussions around GBIF Unified data model implementation. GBIF and DiSSCo planned the implementation of data exchange between DiSSCo and GBIF in a proposed next iteration of the BiCIKL project. With Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio): Recent exploratory collaboration around the concept of Digital Extended Specimen and DiSSCo’s technical implementation of the Digital Specimen. With the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH): Exploratory collaboration around FAIR / data linking (https://research.utwente.nl/en/activities/bridging-the-collaboration-gap-europeana-dissco-amp-dariah-throug) and data-driven storytelling (https://github.com/DiSSCo/demo/blob/master/notebooks/data-driven-story.ipynb, presented at DARIAH annual event 2022). Within the Biodiversity Digital Twin (BioDT) project: DiSSCo is leading the FAIR and FAIR Digital Object work to build the foundation for the FAIR Digital Twin. DiSSCo is collaborating with LifeWatch, the Integrated European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research (eLTER), the University of Manchester (part of ELIXIR) and Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in delivering a pilot integration of workflows and data products organised through FAIR Digital Objects with common community workflows and data products used within the infrastructures. Within the Biodiversity Genomics Europe (BGE) project: DiSSCo is leading T8.3 of BGE, which will establish a link between DiSSCo and the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). DiSSCo is working with European Molecular Biology Laboratory - European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) (part of ELIXIR) and BOLD. Among other things, the tasks will pilot and implement exchange infrastructure to support resource linking between sequence data generated from barcodes to genomes with voucher specimen infrastructure (DiSSCo) and other RIs. Within the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL) project: DiSSCo is leading a work package on providing FAIR data for specimens and samples, which implemented a digital object repository and PID infrastructure that enables specimen data to be provided as FAIR Digital Objects with DOIs so that bi-directional data linkages can be created with infrastructures like ENA, GBIF and GeoCase.