The development of new techniques in physical sciences and molecular biology has greatly increased the range of information that can be obtained beyond visual examination of a specimen. They may improve the accuracy with which specimens can be dated; provide information on the diet of extinct species; or allow researchers to add molecular data from DNA sequences to studies of phylogenetics.

Some of these processes, however, may require the destruction of a small part of the specimen and, if not done properly, could be the cause of more extensive damage or deterioration. These techniques are known collectively as “destructive sampling”.

Examples of destructive sampling
  • Sampling of subfossil bone or mummified tissue for molecular studies
  • Sectioning of specimen teeth or bones
  • Drilling of tooth enamel for isotopic studies
  • Coating of specimens (or parts of specimens) for scanning electron microscope imaging
  • Disarticulation of mounted specimens
  • Separation of elements that have been glued together
  • Some preparation methods (e.g., “lost fossil preparation”)

The benefits of these types of study may outweigh the cost in damage to the specimen, but to ensure that this is not done wastefully the specimen owner should make sure that anyone requiring permission to sample from a specimen:

  • has the right skills to collect the sample while minimizing any collateral damage.
  • is able to get the required results from the collected sample.
  • will publish the results in a timely manner.

What information should be required from an applicant who wishes to conduct destructive sampling?

At a minimum, any request to carry out destructive sampling should include the following information:

  • The purpose of the research and its scientific merit
  • The sampling methods to be employed
  • Why the chosen protocol is the least intrusive method possible
  • Evidence of the researcher’s competence with the protocol
  • The specimens to be sampled
  • Why the specimens in question are essential to the study, and why these particular specimens are the best or only ones available for these purposes
  • Provision of preliminary data indicating that the methods should be successful with the material requested

How should I assess an investigator’s application?

You should be satisfied that the following criteria have been met:

  • The research is of sufficient scientific merit to justify destructive sampling
  • Adequate justification has been given for the use of the specimen(s) in question
  • The protocol will not significantly compromise future use of the specimen(s)
  • The researcher has sufficient experience and expertise to successfully complete the proposed work
  • The sampling will result in research publication(s) in a timely fashion

Are there some specimens that are not appropriate for sampling?

Type specimens should not be made available for destructive sampling. Sampling of specimens that are comparatively rare, either within the collection or generally, is also not advisable unless a particularly compelling case has been made.

Uncataloged material should not be sampled, because of the difficulties in ensuring accurate citation and attribution of samples when study results are published.  For this reason, all sampled specimens must be cataloged first. It is important to consider the staff time and other resource implications of this cataloging when assessing the proposal.

What else should I require of an applicant?

The investigator should be able to provide reasonable assurance that the results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in a timely fashion, and a copy of these papers must be sent after publication. This information should then be recorded in any relevant databases and archives.

Links and downloads

You can download or follow links to the following loan policies and procedures below