Genetic Resources

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

Genetic Resources Collection

The Genetic Resources Collection (GRC) at the Burke Museum can be thought of as a library of biodiversity—archiving frozen tissues from a wide variety of wild animals for current and future research.

With 75,000 tissues, it is one of the largest collections of its type in the world. The GRC includes samples from birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians; it is particularly noteworthy for its avian tissue holdings. Fish tissues are housed separately as part of the Ichthyology Collection.

The taxonomic breadth of the GRC reflects our strong commitment to general, in addition to research-driven, collecting. We also obtain tissues from animals salvaged from environmental disasters, by zoos, government and wildlife organizations, and the public. Nearly all of our tissues have vouchers (associated animal specimens available for reference and study,) which greatly increases their research value.

Tissues are housed in ultracold freezers (-80°C) for long-term viability, and are searchable via online databases. Each year, the collection loans 1,500 to 2,000 tissue sub-samples to researchers around the world. Analysis of these specimens contributes to important research discoveries and publications in a wide variety of fields including evolutionary history and relationships, ecology, conservation biology, species identification, human medicine, and epidemiology. To date, 670 scientific publications have relied on tissue loans from the GRC.

At a glance

Genetic Resources Collection


Tissue sub-samples sent to researchers around the world each year


Temperature of the GRC ultracold freezers


Scientific publications based on samples from the collection.

Collection Overview

The Genetic Resource Collection (GRC) at the Burke Museum is one of the largest such collections in the world. It includes the following:

The GRC includes tissues samples from more than 61,000 birds. Regional strengths include:

  • The Western U.S.
  • North Pacific and New Zealand seabirds
  • Russia and Mongolia
  • The South Pacific (especially the Solomon Islands and Australia)
  • Mexico and Central America
  • Bolivia and Argentina
  • Malawi and South Africa
  • Singapore

The GRC includes tissues samples from more than 10,000 mammals, with a focus on mammals from the Pacific Northwest.

The GRC includes tissues samples from more than 3,500 reptiles and amphibians with recent collections from Ghana, Arizona, and Mexico.

To search for Burke specimens in the Arctos online database, select "Amphibian and reptile specimens" under "Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (UWBM)" in the drop-down menu for Collection. 

The Burke’s Ichthyology Collection cares for tissue specimens separately. These can be searched through the Ichthyology database. For more information about these samples, contact Ichthyology.

Tissue Loans

The Burke GRC loans sub-samples of tissues to researchers for molecular studies, which may involve analysis of DNA, RNA, proteins or isotopes, or other molecules.

Tissue Loans

a group of researchers work in a field tent in Ghana
Photo: Courtesy Adam Leaché/Burke Museum
Photo: Courtesy Adam Leaché/Burke Museum

Research & Publications

The GRC has contributed to over 650 publications on various aspects of evolution, conservation, ecology, human medicine, and archaeology, authored by scientists from around the world. Tissues may also be used for species ID (e.g., in bird-airplane strikes or environmental surveys.) Research topics reflect both collection strengths and development of new molecular techniques and fields of enquiry.

Some studies have helped resolve evolutionary relationships among species, or uncovered cryptic species or genetically distinct populations—vital information for making conservation decisions. Others have contributed to understanding specific adaptations such as feather color, the ability to see UV light or resist dietary toxins, or have focused on DNA or protein changes—for example, in immune systems, or in response to strenuous environments such as high altitudes.

Team & Contact

Location and contact information for the Burke Museum Genetic Resources Collection.

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
a woman removes tissues samples from a giant freezer

Support Genetic Resources

Your gift makes it possible! We couldn't do what we do without generous donor support for collections care, research and public outreach. 

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum