European natural history collections are a critical infrastructure for meeting the most important challenge humans face over the next 30 years – mapping a sustainable future for ourselves and the natural systems on which we depend – and for answering fundamental scientific questions about ecological, evolutionary, and geological processes. Since 2004 SYNTHESYS has been an essential instrument supporting this community, underpinning new ways to access and exploit collections, harmonising policy and providing significant new insights for thousands of researchers, while fostering the development of new approaches to face urgent societal challenges. SYNTHESYS+ is a fourth iteration of this programme, and represents a step change in evolution of this community. For the first time SYNTHESYS+ brings together the European branches of the global natural science organisations (GBIF, TDWG, GGBN and CETAF) with an unprecedented number of collections, to integrate, innovate and internationalise our efforts within the global scientific collections community.
Major new developments addressed by SYNTHESYS+ include the delivery of a new virtual access programme, providing digitisation on demand services to a significantly expanded user community; the construction of a European Loans and Visits System (ELViS) providing, for the first time, a unified gateway to accessing digital, physical and molecular collections; and a new data processing platform (the Specimen Data Refinery), applying cutting edge artificial intelligence to dramatically speed up the digital mobilisation of natural history collections. The activities of SYNTHESYS+ form a critical dependency for DiSSCo – the Distributed System of Scientific Collections, which is the European collection communities ESFRI initiative. DiSSCo will undertake the maintenance and sustainability of SYNTHESYS+ products at the end of the programme.