|This article relies on references to primary sources. (April 2010)|
ATCC is a private nonprofit organization in the biotechnology field whose mission focuses on the acquisition, authentication, production, preservation, development and distribution of standard reference microorganisms, cell lines and other materials for research in the life sciences. Established in 1914 as the American Type Culture Collection and originally incorporated by scientists in 1925[not verified in body] to serve as a worldwide repository and distribution center for cultures of microorganisms, ATCC has developed into the global leader in research and development expertise for identifying, characterizing, preserving and distributing a wide range of cell lines and microbes. Aside from maintaining the biorepository, an R&D program and a product development team, ATCC also competes for federal grants and contracts and engages in partnerships and collaborations with academic institutions and private companies.
ATCC serves U.S. and international researchers by characterizing cell lines, bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, as well as developing and evaluating assays and techniques for validating research resources and preserving and distributing biological materials to the public and private sector research communities. Their management philosophy emphasizes customer satisfaction, value addition, cost-effective operations and competitive benchmarking for all areas of the enterprise.
ATCC’s collections include a wide range of biological materials for research, including cell lines, molecular genomics tools, microorganisms and bioproducts. The organization holds a collection of more than 4,000 human, animal and plant cell lines and an additional 1,200 hybridomas. The molecular genomics collection at ATCC contains 8 million cloned genes from a host of species, including human, mouse, soybean, rat, monkey, zebrafish and several disease vectors. ATCC’s microorganism collection includes a collection of more than 18,000 strains of bacteria from 900 genera, as well as 2,000 different types of animal viruses and 1,000 plant viruses. In addition, ATCC maintains collections of protozoans, yeasts and fungi with over 49,000 yeast and fungi strains from 1,500 genera and 2,000 strains of protists.
In addition to serving as a biorepository and distributor, ATCC provides specialized services related to its overall mission as a biological resource center. Individuals and groups can employ a safe deposit service for their own cell cultures, providing a secure back-up for valuable biomaterials on a cGMP basis if required. ATCC also is able to retain secure samples of patented materials and distribute them according to instructions and approval of the patent holder. ATCC provides expert biological repository management services to institutions, agencies and companies wishing to outsource the handling of their own culture collections.
ATCC biological standards are vital to assuring reliability of research results, reproducibility of experimentation and consistency in the scientific method. Standards from ATCC also help scientists in a wide range of industries ensure safety and quality in their products. ATCC reagents are cited as standards by such federal agencies as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as organizations such as AOAC International, the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute, the U.S. Pharmacopeia, and the World Health Organization. ATCC-produced standards are used by in a host of applications relevant to the lives of citizens, including in developing therapeutic and diagnostic products, testing the quality of food, water and environmental samples, making accurate medical diagnoses and obtaining sound forensic information.
ATCC activities are housed in a custom-built facility in Manassas, Virginia. The 126,000 sq ft (11,700 m2) building is monitored constantly by on-site security staff, and electric power is backed up by on-site generators. The repository portion of the facility occupies 18,000 sq ft (1,700 m2). and contains 200 freezers to store biomaterials, including 65 vapor-phase liquid nitrogen freezers and 50 mechanical freezers, as well as cold rooms for storage at 4°-8 °C. The repository space is complemented by 35,000 sq ft (3,300 m2). of laboratory space. ATCC also occupies 45,000 sq ft (4,200 m2) of research and administrative space at the Prince William County campus of George Mason University, which is located across the street from ATCC’s Manassas building.
The community of users of ATCC products and services is international, and includes researchers in academia and government, as well as private industry. Over 80% of ATCC’s 17,000-strong customer base represents academia and industry – 42% from universities and colleges and 41% from private industry. Government customers comprise 6% of the organization’s total. Three-quarters of ATCC customers hail from the U.S., while the remaining 25% are international customers. ATCC maintains authorized distributors in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, and Taiwan, and makes other international shipments directly from its Virginia facilities. Among the industries represented ATCC’s customer base are the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, agricultural and diagnostics industries, as well as food, beverage and cosmetics makers and reference and testing laboratories.
The ATCC also has working links with several other international culture collections, such as the UK's National Collection of Plant Pathogenic Bacteria (NCPPB), Belgian Co-ordinated Collections of Micro-organisms (BCCM), the Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen (DSMZ, or German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures), the Japanese Collection of Research Bioresources (JCRB), and others.
Supply to Iraqi weapons program
ATCC supplied Iraqi organisations, including Baghdad University, with several pathogens between 1985 and 1989. These include Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax), Aspergillus fungal cultures producing the mycotoxin aflatoxin), Brucella melitensis (causing brucellosis), Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli and Salmonella cholerae-suis. .
This frequently cited list, however, includes both difficult-to-obtain, highly dangerous organisms like anthrax and common, easily identified organisms found in most or all households worldwide, such as the principal aflatoxin producer Aspergillus flavus, a species especially ubiquitous on peanuts or in maize corn fields, and E. coli, found in all animal guts and most natural waterways.