ZSI to preserve fire-ravaged specimens of Calcutta University

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Kolkata, May 6 (IANS) The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) is helping preserve some of the partially-damaged rare specimens of the Calcutta University’s zoology department museum that was ravaged by a recent fire, officials said on Friday.

“We will help preserve some of the damaged specimens and we are taking possession of around 1000 microscopic ones,” Kailash Chandra, ZSI director, told IANS.

The zoology department, housed in the Calcutta University’s Ballygunge Science College campus, was established in 1919.

On March 21, a fire that spread through the department’s laboratory on the first floor to the adjacent museum damaged exhibits collected since 1900s.

The museum had about 4,000 specimens, many of them more than 100 years old.

These included a mammoth hair collected by Biswamoy Biswas, a member of a 1954 Abominable Snowman Expedition to the Himalayas in 1954, a rare glass sponge, several rare snake species and stuffed red pandas, said Ena Ray Banerjee, associate professor who is in charge of the museum.

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Also included in the collection were a duck-billed platypus, a pangolin and a sea lion.

“As many as 260 specimens were untraceable after the fire. All are at least a hundred years old. Their age makes them one of a kind as you are not likely to get one in the market now,” said Banerjee, also head of the university’s immunobiology and regenerative medicine research unit.

In 2015, the department joined the International Barcode of Life project (iBOL) to form a digital database of DNA signatures through a technique called DNA barcoding that can instantaneously identify any plant, animal, organism on earth.

“Samples for DNA barcoding have been collected from 44 samples badly damaged by the fire and for proteomic analysis all specimens have been sampled. However, after bad handling with bare hands and no preservative and high temperature, humidity, dirt and dust attacking these fragile specimens, a lot more damage has been done which could have been easily avoided,” Banerjee added.

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